Northern Ireland – Political Constipation
Prime Minister Blair and Taoiseach Ahern met on March 8 to consider hoe some progress might be made towards re-establishing devolved government in Northern Ireland. No statement has as yet been announced as to what initiative they are likely to take.
As they met there must have been some thoughts in the mind of the Taoiseach about the recent rioting in the centre of Dublin at the weekend of the Ireland versus Wales rugby international. A proposed ‘Love Ulster’ march had to be abandoned because of these disturbances, allegedly caused by dissident Republicans.
An inquiry has been launched in the Republic in to why the Gardaí had been so ill prepared to ensure that the march could take place peacefully and in to why they were unable to contain the riot and prevent extensive property damage in the city.
Also up for discussion by the two prime ministers were the talks Tony Blair had had with Sinn Féin representatives and the exchanges Bertie Ahern had recently had with the other Northern Ireland Nationalist party, the SDLP.
So far the indications are that no tangible elements have emerged from these contacts and from the meetings that have also taken place with Unionist political representatives to form a basis for a resumption of devolved government.
While the PSNI have recently been pre-occupied by the activities of Loyalist paramilitaries the Monitoring Commission have announced that they believe that the Provisional IRA are fully committed to the peaceful and non violent pursuit of their aims.
However, as we get closer to the start of the marching season and to the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion a lengthy period of stalemate lies ahead.
The government in the Republic have indicated that in addition to commemorating those who died on that occasion they are coupling those from both sides in Ireland who died on the Western Front during the World War 1 Battle of the Somme in 1916. This is regarded as a tentative gesture, an olive branch, encompassing as it does the traditions of both countries and of both communities.
I have watched with considerable interest three television programmes on BBC 2. Called ‘Facing the Truth’ they were presided over by Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of Johannesburg. During them some of the families and victims of three decades of violence as well as those who inflicted the killings and maimings participated.
Fergal Keane, who has reported from many of the world’s trouble spots, was an excellent presenter of all three programmes. Two women, experienced in reconciliation projects in the Middle East and Uganda, were involved in the questioning.
A great deal of compassion, composure and dignity was shown throughout the three sessions as well as some understanding on both sides of the other’s pain although forgiveness, in some instances, was a bit tenuous and fragile.
What was apparent to me was that the two perspectives were not entirely reconcilable but that at the human level there was a feeling that within the context of the conditions at the time and in the communities in conflict they were, perpetrators and recipients, all victims.
To me closure was not complete for most of the victims’ families. There was just the satisfaction of having been heard and of having, in the other person’s story of the events, faced the truth together.
I have still got serious doubts about the efficacy of the confrontations displayed in such programmes in respect of the peace process although the participants may themselves derive some solace from the experience.
The personal stories related in these programmes will, no doubt, find their way into community annals and may be used in arguments about the trust and commitments essential to the peace process. They may be used to justify resistance to a return to an inclusive Executive and to devolved government within the framework of the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998. In both communities memories run bitter, long and deep.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 9 March 2006.