May 8, 2007

An Lá Nua i mBéal Feirste?

Has a new day dawned in Belfast? The Stormont opens today after years of closure following the temporary collapse of the Good Friday agreements. Northern Ireland's experiment with home rule begins once more, and this time, the antagonists appear ready to accept the disarmament and good faith of both sides:

Protestant firebrand Ian Paisley and IRA veteran Martin McGuinness formed a long-unthinkable alliance Tuesday as Northern Ireland power-sharing went from dream to reality — and all sides expressed hope that bloodshed over this British territory would never return.

Paisley, who spent decades refusing to cooperate with Northern Ireland's Catholic minority, conceded he had often refused to budge in years past but was ready now. He lauded the Irish Republican Army's moves to renounce violence and disarm, and Sinn Fein's decision to cooperate with the province's mostly Protestant police as genuine. ...

Sinn Fein deputy leader McGuinness, 56, accepted the post of deputy first minister, which despite its title carries the same power as Paisley's post of first minister.

As part of the same oath of office, McGuinness pledged to support the police and British courts — a position Sinn Fein refused for decades to accept.

I hope that everyone means what they say. For centuries, Ulster has suffered violent paroxysms over the sovereignty of the enclave, and the only real method to solve the problem is self-determination. Both the UK and the Republic of Ireland want this problem off of their hands, having come to the same conclusion years ago. The only people who needed convincing were the main antagonists, who kept declaring each other invalid in the political process.

Now that 98% of the armed militias have apparently disarmed verifiably, the heat has almost disappeared. That's what allows Ian Paisley to appear on the same dais as Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams. Even if they can't look each other in the eye, they now feel they can work together peacefully to run Northern Ireland in the spirit of self-determination. Paisley actually felt so good about the reopening of Stormont that he couldn't stop making self-deprecating jokes throughout the ceremony, a particularly Irish thing to do.

I'm hopeful, inasmuch as the past 37 years should have taught anyone that terrorism would never settle the essential question of Northern Ireland's identity. I remain somewhat skeptical because that lesson could have been learned in 36 of those 37 years, and they've thrown away the opportunity once before. My wish is for hope to transcend skepticism, and that the people of Northern Ireland can live in peace by creating their own identity and nationality. Go n-éirí an-tadh libh.


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Comments (3)

Posted by Jim in Texas [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 8, 2007 12:21 PM

I recall a briefing back in the late 80's that the British would leave when the electorate in Northern Ireland vote to get them out.

At that time the expectation was that the catholic portion of the electorate would be in the majority around 2020 (I think, maybe earlier) simply because the Catholic birthrate was far greater than the Protestants.

I suspect Mr. Paisley finally got the memo and realizes that he's going to have to make concessions if he wants to remain relevant in Northern Ireland's politics.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 9, 2007 7:38 AM

This is a very interesting story. It for one seems to blow a hole in the conservative argument that you can't negotiate with groups who use terrorism as a tactic.

Clinton received harsh criticism for this; called a fool, causing more harm that good, embarking on a folly, appeasing terrorists, etc...

But this day seems to be the fruit of all the labor that came before and after the Belfast Agreement. And it shows that those who use "terrorism" as a weapon can be brought into the political process... before it "renounces" violence as a means to its end.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 9, 2007 7:54 AM

before it "renounces" violence as a means to its end.

I want to clarify this. Obviously, this is the goal of any peace talks. I just don't think it's always practical or fruitful to say that we won't deal with a group until they recounce their violent/terrorist ways. I think many times you need to get people talking before they're able to make that step.