the end of the beginning

it’s now over two weeks since the press conference in which ian paisley and gerry adams announced their intentions to share power in northern ireland from the 8th may. i haven’t written about it here until now for a number of reasons, chief among which was that the front page news crowded out space for substantial reflection. i wanted to wait a while before reacting.

so, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts.

there is no doubt that this is a political miracle and it has the potential to truly end the violent conflict in and about northern ireland.

it was a very long time coming, but it’s a remarkable achievement.

at the same time, and at the risk of falling into the cycle of rhetorical negativity that too often characterises conversation about northern ireland, there’s something i’d like to say. the people who are now taking credit for ‘peace in our time’ do not deserve it anywhere near as much as those both behind and in front of the scenes who either always spoke non-violently against injustice, or came round to the idea of power-sharing almost ten years ago when the good friday agreement was signed. neither the irish republican movement nor conservative loyalists can claim to have been purely benign or to have acted always in good faith over the past four decades.

on the one hand, for instance, the ira would have us believe that its struggle was so noble that, among other things, it never intended to target ‘non-combatants’ in spite of the fact that it regularly planted bombs in urban centres where members of the public were bound to be killed.

on the other, ian paisley appears not to have thought that he had a responsibility to de-escalate the conflict in his public rhetoric until after the agreement to share power had been done behind the scenes.

i am glad that no substantive body of opinion in northern ireland now supports the use of force to continue the centuries-old conflict over a tiny piece of land. but this has been in spite of contrary actions by the movements now taking the spoils of war over most of the period they have been in existence. those who are about to take high office (and with it, responsibility for this society) owe at least some gratitude, if not an apology, to those who have struggled for many years for peace and reconciliation.

at the same time, i thank god that one of the world’s longest-running ethnic conflicts has become an object lesson in the value of political dialogue (and a little bit of commerce).

there is a lot more to say about this; including of course an acknowledgement that the pain of this conflict left no community untouched, including those represented by the political movements i’m criticising in this post. i trust however that soon we will see honour being accorded to the long-term peacemakers, and more respect to those who died and suffered than has been evident in the past fortnight.

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