“Those who cannot think straight about Ireland cannot think straight about anything”

As Mick said, there’s been lots of good journalism recently, and here’s another example. At OpenDemocracy Fred Halliday, in a less polemic piece than Christopher Hitchens, firstly addresses the positive points of the ‘indigenous’ deal.. before noting the unaccounted for past and raising some still-open questions.While I’d encourage you to read the full article I’ll extract a few paragraphs..

Firstly, some of the good news

The historic agreement on 26 March between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley on the formation of a Northern Ireland government illuminates the point. It is, in two clear respects, good news. First, it is for real: the agreement represents a major shift in the historic positions of both Adams’s Sinn Féin and Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party towards formal cooperation, and it should work for some time at least. Both sides have abandoned the maximalist goals that they espoused for many years: a forced unification of Ireland on the Republican side, the maintenance of Protestant domination on the Unionist. A measure of mutual recognition, of the legitimacy and rights of the other community, has been attained.

But he also identifies some very clear limits to that deal

Against these positive points, however, two limits of the Adams-Paisley entente need to be noted. First, while the politicians at the top may work together, the peace that may now prevail in Northern Ireland involves the almost complete separation of the two communities, in education, social life and political affiliation. Uncannily, a new European model of inter-ethnic conflict resolution has emerged based not on enlightenment and shared citizenship but on separation into distinct communities: in Belgium, Bosnia, Cyprus this has become the norm, and Northern Ireland is no exception. They may have common sports teams, and a rather similar sense of humour and affection, but there the intermingling stops. It was bad in the 1960s, before the fighting began and, by all accounts, it is as bad or even worse now, especially amongst the young.

Second, this deal, like many others in the modern world, is being carried out by leaders who, by dint of their compromise and the international support attached to it, will enjoy complete immunity, if not absolution, from the errors and crimes of their own past. Ian Paisley was never directly associated with the armed Protestant killer-squads that stalked Belfast in the 1970s; but by his alarmist and sectarian rhetoric, and his rantings about the papal Antichrist and Dublin, he certainly played a major destructive role, in two ways – by fomenting the kind of Protestant intransigence whose result was the forcible movements of population within mixed districts of Belfast, and by sabotaging earlier peace agreements that, had they been implemented, would have saved many lives.

The IRA – when it was organised, led and directed by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and their associates – was for years the perpetrator of terrible crimes, among them the shooting, bombing, kidnapping and torturing of both Protestant and Catholic inhabitants of Northern Ireland. Now Gerry is all smiles, the promoter of peace and author of saccharine autobiographies in which not a fly is hurt, but this belies his sinister, and wholly unaccounted for, past.

And, he argues, there is a still-open question about the future

This raises a much larger question left open by the Belfast agreement: that of the political future not merely of Northern Ireland, but of Ireland as a whole. Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party confines itself to Northern Ireland. Its goal is to preserve the separate status of that entity, and defend the rights of its Protestant inhabitants. It has no broader, British, aspirations: Northern Irish Unionism has long lost any links to the Conservative Party in Britain. To a considerable degree Paisley has achieved his goal. The same cannot, however, be said of Sinn Féin, the party that created and directed the IRA. Even if its century-long pedigree is contested, Sinn Féin is in its broad manifestation at least one of the longest-lasting parties in Europe; and throughout its history its overall aspiration has not changed – that of ruling over a united Ireland.

In this, the Belfast agreement, while surrendering an immediate claim on the north, is of great assistance, as it enables Sinn Féin to enter the elections in the Republic of Ireland, scheduled for May 2007, in a much stronger position. Already, with the new nationalism prevalent in the south as a result of economic prosperity, and with a younger generation of voters apparently unconcerned about Adams’s past, Sinn Féin is in a strong position to emerge as a coalition partner in any new government and reclaim the historic leadership it won in the last all-Ireland elections in 1918.

Both the other main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are in fact historic splits from the “old” Sinn Féin itself. The result of the Belfast agreement may, therefore, be to strengthen Sinn Féin in pursuit of its long-term nationalist goal, and allow this sinister, corrupt, and devious organisation – whose very name in Irish (“ourselves alone”) is a nonsense in the age of globalisation – to assume the power to which it always aspired. That would be a high price, if arguably a necessary one, for the conclusion of the past forty years of violence in Northern Ireland. In this sense, the “Irish question” is far from being resolved.

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