We quite frequently drive along the mountain road between Fivemiletown and Rosslea. Last time we were along that road a car was stopped beside the memorial at Moanes Cross to two IRA men: Feargal O’Hanlon and Sean South, who died after an attack on Brookeborough RUC station on the 1st January 1957. An elderly couple seemed to be laying flowers at the place. I wondered if they were friends or relatives of those who had died there all those years ago in the IRA border campaign.Mary McAleese has suggested that the end of Irelands centuries long political conflict is at hand. This in many ways echoes comments by Bertie Ahern whilst he was in Washington. Of course these sentiments are not confined to RoI politicians or to nationalists and also seem to have some echoes in Dr. Paisleys latest remarks. I do feel, however, that this is a very difficult conclusion to draw when one considers the history of this island and indeed the history of other conflicts in the world.
The conflicts here have been solved with tedious frequency. Ireland has been pacified whether by force or by politics on many occasions. By turns Elizabeth I, James I/VI, Cromwell and Gladstone used pacification of various forms and the list of rebellions includes so many dates: 1641, 1798, 1916 etc. I would suggest that the nature of our conflict here is somewhat similar to ethnic conflicts, although as with many so called ethnic conflicts, there are no actual ethnic differences, merely cultural ones. The problem is with totally differing political aspirations and that is unlikely to change any time soon.
Looking to other places in the world there are frequent examples of conflicts supposedly solved years ago, which recurred. How many expected the orgy of violence visited on the Balkans? Remember also that the Balkan conflict was solved by the creation of Yugoslavia after it had helped precipitate the First World War (of course the above is utterly simplified but there is some truth therein). The horrors of Rwanda were unexpected but had causes and (much milder) precedents in the history of that region.
So maybe we have some form of permanent peace and all subsequent quarrels about Northern Ireland will be solved peacefully. However, this sounds a little like the pronouncement of The End of History after the end of the Cold War.
Whilst I agree with Mick that at the moment there (thankfully) seems little likelihood that the dissident terrorists will manage to return us to major violence; I am brought back to that elderly couple at Moanes Cross with whom I started. I sometimes wonder if the terrorist attacks we are seeing now are a little like the IRA border campaign. At the time I am sure the RUC and the government in Stormont were delighted with how relatively easily they defeated that campaign. Little did they know that massively more violence (initiated let us remember by loyalists) was then less than a decade away.