Robinson and McGuinness and our lessons for others

Here’s a short snippet of an interview Radio Ulster carried of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in Washington last week. Martin seems keener on the ‘official’ message of how they are all now on the same side. But nevertheless, the permafrost seems to have all but disappeared. It’s not yet not the end of history in some places. Will it be productive? Retiring US Consul Dean Pittman seems to think so. As McGuinness points out there is a huge curiosity to see if lessons can be drawn for the settlement of other conflict points in the world, not least in the US. Though picking over what is and is not relevant can be a contentious business. It would be good to hear your ideas about what might be drawn on for elsewhere, and what cannot?

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  • Nevin

    Mick, Ian and Martin may have put the pikes in the thatch but what about the new kids on the block?

    2016 is just around the corner, the authorities have, to a considerable degree, delegated community control to the paramilitary godfathers and a perusal of networking sites with a bit of loyalist/republican marching bands googling would indicate that the OO/AOH fraternities have been rather more civil and civilising. Might we be sleep-walking into another catastrophy?

  • David

    It is interesting that there are some who would try to draw comparisons between Northern Ireland and elsewhere. But can there really be comparisons?
    The Palestine/Israel comparison is a non-starter. Imagine trying to build peace if the British state was trying to build and expand settlements in the 26 counties?
    Iraq? Also a non-starter. The dynamics in Iraq are far more complex than the simple Unionist versus Republican problem in Ulster. Infact there may well be a dynamic were some pro-war people point to N. Ireland as an excuse to remain in Iraq.

    There is though mileage in the concept of shared experience. The N. Irish situation is well known throughout the world and though we cannot tell others how to end their conflict, we can share the experience of how it ended in N. Ireland. The case for the conflict transformation centre?

    As for Nevin’s idea that we may face trouble ahead. I believe that is unpredictable. Though I would say that he is correct to raise the prospect because a change in circumstance (ie serious economic downturn) can always change the environment.

    Please let us not anoint ourselves world experts on ending other peoples conflicts.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There’s a line from Pulp Fiction where Mr Wolf says “let’s not suck each others d**** just yet”.

    We’re a couple of months into a devolved government that has yet to make any major actual decisions – on the stadium, on whether or not the H Blocks should be listed, on whether rates or water charges should be applied. It’s also studiously avoided the marching issue and the associated problems with bonfires, despite evidence that most people across NI (not just nationalists) are sick of the eyesore, the street damage, and the environmental harm caused by people burning sofas and tyres etc. We’ve still got “peace walls” all over the place, and as Nevin said paramilitaries continue to exert significant degrees of control over the communities they come from, particularly loyalists at the moment.

    All the while, various politicians in the government are openly telling the media not to ask any hard or difficult questions which might damage the institutions. When I hear that sort of thing, alarm bells start going off. For these reason I think it’s waaay early for people to be going around the world pointing to NI and saying “problem solved”.

  • David,

    I agree with much of what you say. There are huge differences between many of the various conflicts around the world. Any amount of underlying factors and historical complexities.

    There is another important point here though. I still think that most of us are’nt fully aware of what actually happened during the couple of months leading up to the ‘end game’ between the DUP and Sinn Fein. I’m not talking here primarily about the pure politics of it all either…

    Rather, all of those behind closed doors meetings and discussions. What happened when they all met face-to-face for the first time? What prompted arch enemies to agree to put a legacy of conflict behind them? I have often felt that many conflict resolution situations are as much to do with personalities and human interaction as much as the political minutiae of it all. ie in the case of our own recent agreement, how a level of trust was finally established between once-bitter enemies?

    We cannot apply the ‘test’ of our own situation to other conflicts until we fully know all of the (mostly) personal reasons that ultimately motivated Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to place trust in each other. I doubt if either Sinn Fein or The DUP will want the details of all of that revealed until many years down the road. Until it is, I am not sure if we can talk with any great authority about applying our experiences to other conflict resolution situations.

  • Nevin

    David, it’s my impression that inter-communal conflict here is more likely to be associated with constitutional rather than economic or other issues. Perhaps we should ensure that there are sufficient ‘state’ resources to contain any breakdown of ‘trust’.

  • David

    Macswiney….I agree totally.
    Nevin….I think your suggestion is spot on.
    Infact there is nothing I could add, your points are well made.

  • William Cosgrave

    Perhaps one lesson that could be learnt is that in deeply divided societies such as Northern Ireland constitutional or high political solutions are not the key, but rather time is. I think looking at Northern Ireland, while there was some euphoria about the recent DUP SF deal, which I did not share and felt was overblown, nothing on the ground changed over night. The years since 1994 have gradually weakened hardline positons -and the settlement does nothing to tackle the same interface and wider sectarian problems which have afflicted Northern Ireland for decades. Years without overt conflict, even if the actual high level process seems to keep faltering, are the best solution. A low quality peace can deeply damage the harmony of two communities who have had expectations raised by a great consitutional or political settement. It is easier to sustain low quality and prevent larger scale unrest without the dramatic event of a great settlement.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think things are a bit more complex than people are suggesting. What we’ve got in NI right now came about not only because of the possibility of long term peace, but because on the back of that peace comes a long period of guaranteed political power for the two large parties which have entered into the present arrangement.

    Both the DUP and SF have always been about the acquisition of political power. They used extremism and violence (or gave the nod to violence) whenever it was appropriate for them to do so in pursuit of their objectives. Now they are using moderation in pursuit of those same objectives. The moderation of today is backed up by their extremism in the past, which allows people to buy into the deal based on the conflict that myth that “Ian Paisley wouldn’t do a deal if it was not the best one possible for unionism” or “Gerry Adams wouldn’t go to Stormont with Paisley if it did not lead us to a UI”. Their respective extremist pasts creates credibility by itself.

    So it sounds like the solution is that you essentially have to create extremist parties, allow them to kill each other for a few decades, then allow them to become electorally credible by buying off their leaders with sweetners involving guaranteed political power in exchange for the violence being stopped. Then give them the credit for coming up with the idea, all the while ignoring or papering over the underlying causes of conflict beneath. I sure hope it isn’t what we are promoting as the model to stop conflict in other places.

  • Dewi

    Joseph – You have to start from where you are. DUP and SF only get the power through votes. Why do you think people vote for them ?

  • curious

    [i]“Ian Paisley wouldn’t do a deal if it was not the best one possible for unionism” or “Gerry Adams wouldn’t go to Stormont with Paisley if it did not lead us to a UI”. Their respective extremist pasts creates credibility by itself.[/i]

    comrade stalin, how could a deal that would [b]lead us to a UI[/b]be [b]the best one possible for unionism[/b]????????????????????????????

  • carpenter

    I think we’ve all been looking at the peace process the wrong way. First it was with armed struggle, which I will admit, did have its place. However, both sides have acted all too often in the realm of terrorism and sectarianism rather than freedom fighting. Now we look to politics, do we really think Catholics and Protestants are going to come to terms with each other politically, with no one giving an inch of their idealism? What the entire North and the entire bloody island needs to realize is that we are more united than we may think, we are united in Christ! Until we start focusing on our common beliefs, which at the core are very similar, their will be no peace.

  • Pounder

    Speak for yourself carpenter. I think you’ll find more non-christians than christians in NI these days. Paisley is a fine advert for athiesm.

  • carpenter

    pounder, I absolutely agree, and that is the point I think. catholicism and protestantism aren’t ethnicities, they’re things people believe in. and they’ve both in perverted in NI. and nothing will change until the people and politicians in NI actually believe what they claim they are. you are not born catholic or protestant. you may be born into a family that practices one of those belief systems, but what one believes, that is something they need to choose. and if both sides, republican and loyalist, catholic and protestant, paisley and mcguinness, would really look at their traditions and choose to follow them, (meaning becoming true God-fearing catholic CHRISTIANS and protestant CHRISTIANS) I believe peace could be achieved. only Christ is can bring true peace to NI, because if you follow the traditions of catholic and protestant back to where they begin, they begin with Christ.