As noted yesterday, Gerry Adams benevolent reading of Ian Paisley’s career on Comment is Free was remarkable in its civility. Simon Jenkins is unimpressed. He recalls his early days as a reporter encountering a younger Paisley in Northern Ireland:
The man was a monster, a fanatic, a hangover from the middle ages. I remember wondering how on earth Britain had allowed Ulster’s constitution so to fester as to have this man roaming the woods and hills of Ulster. One thing Britain does not do well is postcolonial partition. It creates a fertile breeding ground for the likes of Paisley, and his antagonist, Adams.
Speed up some years:
These men eventually eliminated moderate leaders so they could claim moderation for themselves. They smashed power-sharing so they could share power between themselves. They now pretend that change could not have been faster because the people would not let them. The climate of public opinion in the province was not ready.
That is a lie. These men were the climate, and it was one of systematic bigotry and violence. They chose their methods and terrorised all who opposed them. While religious sectarianism elsewhere in Europe was on the wane, lovers of Northern Ireland had to watch in despair as it drifted to ever greater separatism – territorially, politically and psychologically.
The Good Friday agreement did not end this polarisation. It is best described as a moment in a long process, when Tony Blair cleared from the battlefield the moderate clutter of Hume and Trimble so that Adams and Paisley could see the whites of each other’s eyes.
Shades of David McKee’s Two Monsters children’s story. But Jenkins concludes:
A cliche of conflict studies holds that only leaders of extremist factions can deliver closure. Hence Kenyatta of Kenya, Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Begin of Israel. Hence the “feelers” put out to Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas in Gaza. Eventually we must all “sit down with the men of violence”. To that thesis history can only reply, sometimes yes and sometimes no. When there is a future to be rebuilt, bygones must be bygones. But it is one thing to forgive, quite another to forget.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty