Moving forwards and slipping back

Shortly after the initial Belfast agreement we frequently heard about the need to keep moving forward lest we slip back to violence. Whenever people baulked at the idea of letting assorted criminals out of gaol we were told about the need to move forward lest we “slip back”. The leading advocates of the need to move forwards and the dangers of slipping back were usually the more liberal parties. The targets of their dread warnings, more often than not, were the DUP.For a while the talk about slipping back to violence seemed to have gone away. However, I saw it had been revived recently by the some of DUP themselves. When some of the relatives of those murdered at La Mon stated that they did not want Paisley at the commemoration a DUP spokesperson was reported by the Newsletter as saying “The party understands the hurt of victims and we understand the current arrangements at Stormont are not easy for some people. But we must build for the future so we don’t return to similar events such as La Mon.” Paisley himself also seems to have got the “moving forwards bug”: “We are going forward and I am just saying to the people: you have a task to play. Play it with us and we’ll get through.” From the same debate Martin McGuiness is also worried about “no hopers who want the army back on the streets.” SF are fairly clear on the direction in which they want to move forwards namely towards a united Ireland. The DUP’s forward movement is possibly a bit less clear but is unlikely to be in a parallel direction. As such all this movement could be described as being potentially random, possibly even Brownian.

The idea that the whole process must keep moving and keep momentum lest it collapse has been around for some time. However, we cannot keep moving forever in some bizarre political version of the Flying Dutchman. To change the metaphor the process cannot be a child on a bicycle forced to keep moving lest it fall. At some point the process must stop evolving and moving forward. By the logic of those supporting moving forward one might think, however, that this is necessary and should it stop violence will return. That thesis could easily end up with believing that the only final rest for this particular Wagnerian tragedy or Faustian pact (depending on which opera one prefers) would be in a united Ireland.

Of course this proposal is totally flawed and specious on another level as well. The DUP spokesperson I quoted earlier said “we must build for the future so we don’t return to similar events such as La Mon.” Now currently those threatening violence against the process and to “drag us back” are the dissident republicans who unfortunately have been reappearing and might even try to become organised. These dissidents, however, completely reject the agreement and are unlikely to be made more or less amenable to it by any building, movement or whatever other metaphors are used. What might be implicit in what the DUP are suggesting; however is that if some form of movement is not forthcoming the mainstream republican movement might be tempted to go back to violence. That of course begs the obvious question then of what on earth the DUP are doing in government with them. If, however, there is no danger of them going back to violence then how can “building for the future” prevent “similar events such as La Mon.” The DUP cannot have it both ways.

The reality of course is that the DUP is now intoxicated by power. They are willing to say practically anything to justify the movement in their own political position and to cling onto their power. As such they are willing to buy into one of the greatest fallacies of the agreement, which was that the cessation of criminality by a group of terrorists required the rest of society to start giving the criminals at least some of what they wanted. This fallacy that somehow everyone else is obligated to and in debt to the IRA for no longer murdering people (to the extent of even ignoring actual ongoing murders) is one of the great lies of the current process. That the DUP are falsely marrying the end of terrorism with the necessity to make political changes is one of the greatest intellectual about turns that they have made. Whether or not the DUP actually believe this is of course open to debate. Those who genuinely did believe it in the past were sincere but in my view in grave error. The DUP now seem both insincere and in error. The question is will the unionist population demonstrate that they know that their new emperor has indeed, not only no new clothes, but in this case is actually well aware of that fact.