“I never thought the Sinn Fein-IRA family and the DUP family would ever accommodate each other…”

Niall O’Dowd gleefully notes Kevin Myers’ mea culpa on Friday over the way he refused to believe (or his dogged determination to ‘future’ on the matter) a shift in attitudes amongst the DUP and Sinn Fein would ever be possible. Though as is often the case with Myers, the substantive secondary point he makes is worth noting:

I confess that I never thought the Sinn Fein-IRA family and the DUP family would ever accommodate one another, not least because I thought the former would never disarm, and the latter were too bigoted. I was wrong, of course; but many people have been wrong in the sorry history with which we are burdened.

Apportioning blame is easily done, but is seldom a useful exercise. But what interests me most of all is the social mechanism which enables the unthinkable of one decade to become not merely thinkable but achievable two decades later.

He argues that the Irish elected political dog – north and south – has an almost phobic fear of ‘the unelected tail’:

…fear of the tail has been an obsessive pathology of Irish political life, even though that tail usually comprises the violent, the unhinged, the hate-filled and the plain ignorant. Worse still, so powerful is the tail within the Irish psyche that almost all political parties have tried to appease it by anticipating its demands.

Ian Paisley was the classic tail, around which the entire dog revolved until, finally, he became the dog itself.

If you wag the dog in order to keep the tail happy, the tail simply gets uppity. I have never used the Adams-McGuinness leadership as an example of how things can be done, and perhaps for obvious reasons. But as the Irish Republic slides to economic and social perdition, what they achieved within the Sinn Fein-IRA family stands out even more starkly as a perfect model of vision and courage.

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