“So, what was British policy?”

John mentioned, in passing, Alex Kane’s column in today’s Irish News.  But, in reaching for his hyperbolical conclusion, he missed the more interesting part of the article.  From Alex Kane in the Irish News.

As far back as 1972 the Heath government introduced the concept of power-sharing, the ‘Irish dimension’ and the constitutional guarantee: and from that moment it seemed inevitable that any deal they would agree to (and hope that the Irish would underwrite with them) would be a deal that combined those three key elements.  In other words, from almost the beginning – and certainly from that moment when the Stormont parliament was prorogued in March 1972 – successive British governments pursued an inclusive policy, a policy that would put all voices and vehicles at the heart of any new government.

I suspect that if the British had chosen to beat down the IRA in the 1970s they could probably have done so.  But to what end?  The organisation would almost certainly have re-emerged further down the line, forcing the British to impose yet another ‘security solution’.  What they seemed to want was a political/constitutional solution, one that would safeguard nationalists from one-party unionist rule, while ensuring that Northern Ireland would remain within the United Kingdom until such times as a majority voted otherwise.  In which case it was going to be a very long, very drawn out struggle until the point was reached at which unionists/nationalists/loyalists/republicans (and the assorted paramilitary groups) realised that compromise, negotiation and agreement were the only viable options left to them.

That point was finally reached about 20 years ago – following incidents like the Shankill bombing and Greysteel – when almost everyone accepted that there had to be another way of doing business here.  What we have today, therefore, is the manifestation of a policy, a British policy no less, which has been floating around for almost 40 years.  The constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom remains (and will continue to remain when Scotland rejects independence next year) as, bit by bit, the various parties to the quarrel here were brought round to accepting the reality and inevitability of that policy.

The problem, of course, is that the policy isn’t the policy of the unionists and republicans at all, which explains why they have so much difficulty in implementing it.  The bedrock irony is that the various sides here have been quietly manipulated into colluding with each other to shore up an agreement which none of them actually wants.

Indeed.  Although, I would point out that such an objective was never inevitable.  But then, nothing is…