At the end of this month the Maze Prison, famous/notorious for housing loyalist and republican paramilitaries, will be empty save for nineteen convicted INLA members who are not entutled to early release under the Good Friday (1998) Accord.
Strong objections to this early freeing have been registered by the DUP, Paisley’s party, the principal opponents of the Peace Agreement. The chip off the ‘old block’, Ian Junior, has been on ‘air’ trying (unsuccessfully) to make a case for stopping these steps. This son of ‘Bull Frog’ seems just as dyed in the wool a fundamentalist as his sire, if not as raucously ranting.
It is a strange quirk of fate that the Ballymena Bowler’s rhetoric, which played such a major part in steaming up the violence of Orange Loyalist Mobs in the 1960s, sparking off 30 years of mayhem, places him in bed with dissident republicans, both he and they wanting to destroy the Belfast Settlement.
One must question the understanding of the Tory Westminster Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who also argues against early release, authorised by the Good Friday Agreement, thus aligning himself and his party with these two dissident groups, fierce opponents of the Agreement. Hardly the Bi-Partisan support they claim to give to the Peace Process. Seeking no doubt to gain votes on the back of every emotionally charged issue.
If we can get relatively peacefully through the other flashpoints of the summmer months and the Executive is seen to develop skill and competence in dealing with the economic, social and educational issues of both communities, and encouraging cross-community relationships, the ‘Long War’ can truly end.
A sustained, constant drive can then begin to create a long awaited stable democratic Six Counties as a prelude to improved co-operation and understanding between all parts of both islands.
However, two issues will continue to rumble on and may even erupt. The legislation to implement the Patten Report, the reform of the Police Service and the possibility of revenge actions, from both sides, against the newly released prisoners.
The generous terms being offered to retiring members of the RUC will enable those of them who might become targets on their return to civilian life to relocate out of danger. This, of course, is not the case in respect of the newly released prisoners. They cannot escape their history early.