“the beginning of a long learning curve”

Thanks to Newshound we have this Sunday Times article by Liam Clark which looks at how elements of the long-running Process™ are being used elsewhere – and he points to the 1972 meeting between the British Government and an IRA delegation, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, as a pivotal moment. It’s an article that should be read in connection with previous comments from Malachi O’Doherty – “If you want leaders to be able to control the whole movement underneath them, then you have to leave them in place for long enough to secure credibility and influence.” – and with the recent Open Source Radio discussion in mind.. as well as John Major’s recent interview. Extract from the Sunday Times article below the fold.From the article

Maccabe advises continuous dialogue and minor acts of trust. He points to the example of the British government, which always kept its lines of communication open to the IRA. He points also to things that seemed unpromising at the time but which later made progress possible. One example is the failed talks between the IRA and the British government in 1972 that Gerry Adams was released from prison to attend and at which McGuinness had a concealed weapon.

“The fact that Adams had been brought out of prison by the British government as long ago as 1972 showed people that trust was possible,” he said. “Adams came out, he didn’t mess about or misuse it, and the British government didn’t kill him and McGuinness when they got them to London. That established some sort of trust and confidence.”

At the time the talks demonstrated the depressing distance between the two sides. The British found the IRA unrealistic, the republicans thought the British arrogant, and afterwards the violence escalated. In retrospect it can be seen as the beginning of a long learning curve. Both sides knew they could deal with the other if they ever wanted to.

McGuinness and Adams were allowed to remain in place because the British authorities recognised them as people who could be dealt with at some stage. Throughout the Troubles McGuinness had a line of communication to Michael Oatley, a senior MI6 official, which was used periodically to test ideas and to seek assurances on what was going on. Oatley is now part of a conflict resolution think tank that has been urging dialogue with Hamas, based on his lessons in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

The behaviour of Adams and McGuinness can be presented as collaboration or a cynical exercise at leadership level while their IRA followers fought and died, but that is not the whole story. “A puppet figure, like the Americans had in South Vietnam, tends not to work and it certainly hasn’t worked in the Middle East, where anyone the Americans promote is automatically distrusted,” explains a British official. “It is different if there are people who are clearly in control. Then it usually pays you to do nothing to wreck them.”

The logic is that an intelligent and popular leadership will in time see the need to do a deal. If removed, a new leadership will have to begin the learning curve.

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