“Nothing lasts for ever, do you play it safe or do you try to do something…”

When you read Martin McGuinness’ interview in yesterday’s Guardian, it’s worth watching a pre Tory David Trimble’s straight talk interview with Andrew Neil… Both men display a strong sense of the future and an understanding of the need to move on to new territory (without deserting principle), not necessarily shared by their original political hinterlands…Much of the McGuinness interview is a rehashing of old stuff, already in public domain, accompanied by the customary spin… However in one respect, Mr McGuinness’ analysis hits one nail on the head:

Robinson’s speech, he says, “effectively called for the binning of both the Good Friday and the St Andrews agreements – certainly the cross-community voting arrangements.

But McGuinness is here gilding a very popular but largely misleading nationalist lily when he claims Robinson is “harking back to an age when a unionist block could dictate the pace at parliament here, and in government”. What Robs in the first place is a loosening of the ties his own party (with the agreement of Sinn Fein but no one else at St Andrews) to ensure Ministers did not act outside the authority of the Executive in quite the way they they themselves had done during David Trimble’s tenancy as First Minister.

That said, the current First Minister was on stronger ground suggesting that the sheer indolence of the DUP/Sinn Féin led alliance is of itself a powerful critique of of a system that crams people together who could never agree on anything that was fundamentally political. Robinson’s position medium term position is one the DUP has articulated in detail as prefereable to mandatory coalition since January 2004.

That’s not to deny there are not serious internal pressures within the DUP, not least given Jim Allister’s proven capacity to punch way above its weight… Yet, even Alliser (who got pretty close to the SAA negotiations before jumping ship) accepts that it is right to okay to have Sinn Fein in government, just that he doesn’t want to be forced to join them or condone any unionist who does so.

So it is fair enough in this context to ask as Eamonn has whether “OFMdFM is history”?

The answer from both sides is, I suspect, likely to be something akin to Augustine’s famous prayer: “Lord make me pure, but not yet”. The problem for both, but more acutely for Sinn Fein is that, as Trimble points out, the key to the Peace Process™ has always been the ‘consent principle’… It was Unionism’s ace blocking card (ie nothing could be given that was not freely given…) in the negotiations of 95-98…

As, perhaps as an unintended consequence, it also proved to be a key dynamic to the IRA holding out on decommissioning of its weapons for nearly eight years after the Belfast Agreement… And it is the key to the DUP’s capacity to hold out almost interminably on the devolution of Policing and Justice (the really reason for Sinn Fein’s – hugely under reported – civil action against anything happening inside the Executive)… Only now it is ‘nationalism’ rather than ‘unionism’ that’s in the ha’penny place…

Despite all the spin this week, this one will walk, walk and walk… At least so long as Sinn Fein continue to make David Trimble’s mistake of making it too much of an issue for their opponents for their own good… Although that’s a part of strategy I suspect lies in the realm of the party’s ex-officio internal discipline committee, something the deputy First Minister has little to do with…

That said, Peter Robinson might also like to reflect on the current drift which Sinn Fein finds itself in courtesy of its own past belligerence; and conclude that loss of political momentum can be every bit as damaging as the idea that that you’ve sold out on some crucial (if arcane) point of principle…

This hiatus that’s not a hiatus is likely to be a game of two halves at least…


    typical sf nonsense and rewriting of history. Huge support for the IRA? i dont think so, nine perecent of the vote if you look at SF polling figures. Why doesnt mcguinness admit that the dissidents are as wrong or as right as he was? And a phonecall home everyday? The act of a security concious `rebel’ outlaw on the run, being hounded by oppresive state security forces determined to put him behind bars? methinks not. A charmed life eh?

  • Framer

    IT review of autobiography of Shirey Williams

    ‘When Williams, a Catholic herself, spent a brief time as secretary of state for Northern Ireland from the Home Office (1966), James Chichester-Clarke took the home secretary, James Callaghan, aside and said: “We can’t talk to her about anything important – I’m sure you understand.” “In that case … you won’t be talking to anyone at all.”‘

    Williams is best known for her role in the foundation and leadership of the Social Democratic Party, after years of dismay at the destructive influence of the hard left on the Labour Party.

    Like Cherie’s non-handshake with Paisley?

  • Brit

    On the weekend’s media did anyone hear the piece on Frank Gardiners interview with Normal Tebbit on Radio 4 this moring, talking about the IRA bombing of the Brighton Hotel.

    Tebbit said he could possibly forgive the perpetrators (including Magee) if they showed genuine remorse and contrition, but that this was not the case.

    Gardiner, for his part, said that he could never forgive the men who shot him and his camerman – killing the camerman and leaving Gardiner (who they thought they killed) for dead.

    Not being a Christian I’ve always had issues with the central place it appears to occupy in that faith.

  • in the national interest

    looks like you rushed out this article in record time: it’s strewn with grammatical and spelling errors thus making it very difficult and frustrating to read

  • Rory Carr

    Your last sentence, Brit, doesn’t make sense unless you tell us what the “it” is that “appears to occupy a central place in that [Christian] faith”.

    If, as I assume, you mean forgiveness, I fail to see how you can have “always had issues” with the concept when, as you claim, you are not a Christian yourself. Why should it bother you? You are not required to practice forgiveness although if you wish to remain mentally healthy I do advise that you learn to practise it on a regular basis.

    It can really fuck you up if you don’t. Remaining unforgiving and full of bile, bitterness and resentment harms only the person who holds these feelings and has no effect whatsoever on the perpetrator of any wrong, real or imagined, that was done to him.

    Forgiveness rids oneself of that sickness, is completely free (and more importantly, sets one free) and you don’t even have to profess Christianity to exercise it. Go on, give it a go – it won’t do you any harm. Promise.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. Marty

    very postive profile for Marty, loved his mother and his country and never stopped fighting for the latter whilst hosting sympathetic international celebrities he kept in touch with the former even in the most difficult circumstances.

    re. Trimnble.

    Hadnt seen this before – Trimble looked deeply embarassed and uncomfortable as he was confronted by his extreme past. And no wonder – for someone who liked to condemn those involved (like Marty)in violence his support for Vanguard and “Liquidating the enemy” and talking of needing to turn to violence if they did not get their way smacks of rank hypocricy.

    He falls clearly into the category of those people who Dawn Purvis talked of at the PUP conference yesterday as “rabble-rousing politicians threatening to fight to the last drop of everyone else’s blood”. Lovely phrase.

    ps Andrew Neil has to be by far the best of media interviewers – he was excellent at the Tory conference – he is direct and tough and unlike Paxman doesnt bother making funny faces and playing to the crowd.

  • Sammy, I’m surprised Neill left out the roles of the two other key players in the process, the Irish and US governments. What greater exponent of hypocrisy vis-a-vis the IRA than Bertie Ahern?

  • “ex-officio internal discipline committee, something the deputy First Minister has little to do with…”

    Mick, McGuinness might just as easily be the director of operations 🙂

  • Brit

    Rory I dont argue against any technique (including what some may call forgiveness) to help the victims of traumantic crime and evil to continue with their life and get over the worst of the trauma.

    What I question is the moral or philosophical basis for releasing someone from their debt/obligation to make amends when they show no contrition or remorse.

    I think forgiving those who lack remorse blurs the distinction between the such people and those who feel remorse and generally want to atone.

    And some crimes are so evil that no one should or could forgive the perpetrator in the sense of wiping the slate clean.

  • Rory Carr

    I think you fail to understand the very nature of forgiveness, Brit. It belongs to the wronged party not to the wrongdoer, it comforts and heals the wronged party not the wrongdoer.

    For the wrongdoer to benefit from forgiveness he must recognise and admit the harm done, resolve not to repeat such action and make attempts at amendment where possible and where such amendment would not bring further harm.

    So it is that when a wronged person is suffering from resentment and notions of revenge over that wrong it is counselled that they attempt to find understanding and forgiveness in order to ease their own suffering rather than to continue to suffer in mental anguish long after the harm that was done has passed.

    If the wrongdoer is unwilling or incapable of recognising the grace involved in that forgiveness such that he cannot admit the wrong of his actions then that is his problem and he deserves our pity for without so doing he can never find peace.

    I met such a man once. He was a Dublin man who had joined an Ulster regiment of the British army when he was sixteen. He had taken part in the most unspeakable atrocities in Malaya and he was now filled with such guilt and night terror that he had to surround his bed each night with cans of extra strong lager lest he wake in the night and not find one easily to hand to ease him back to unconciousness. When I suggested that it was possible to find peace and fully understand how the naivety of his youth and peer pressure might have played a part in leading him into such barbarity and that he should seek psychiatric help he said he had already sought such help. “And what did they say?”, I asked. “They told me that I would never find peace this side of the grave”, he replied and the emptiness in his voice and folorn expression of his eyes sent a chill of horror through me such as I hope to never again experience.