general view that republicans were mainly at fault
for the failure of a peace process initiative is,
in itself, something of a novelty. Sinn Féin
has always been able to ensure that someone else
(preferably a unionist) carried the blame for previous
such failures. Not this time.
the DUP being a tailor-made fall guy (central casting
couldn't have come up with better) and Ian Paisley
virtually gifting them an exit route with his ill-conceived
"sackcloth and ashes" speech, Sinn Féin
still failed to garner much sympathy in citing IRA
sensitivities as a pretext for not reaching agreement.
the early release of the Adare killers regardless
of the feelings of Det Garda McCabe's family and
his police colleagues, while at the same time prattling
on about not causing offence to republicans, might
just have smacked a little too much of double standards
for most people's taste.
perhaps it was simply a case of people beginning
to wonder if, with Sinn Féin being an ever-present
at failed initiatives, it might possibly be they
and not everyone else who was at fault this time.
no matter, maybe we should be thankful that republicans
are otherwise occupied at present, because it gives
the rest of us time to consider distinct patterns
that are beginning to emerge in the peace process.
successfully orchestrating an implosion within the
Ulster Unionist Party by continually promising much
but delivering little before finally hanging moderate
Ulster Unionists out to dry, one wonders if Sinn
Féin might now be trying to employ similar
divide-and-conquer tactics in their dealings with
more than 10 years on ceasefire, republicans are
still enticing unionists with heavily conditional
promises of total decommissioning and a final IRA
winding-up. Are they hoping to tempt a more pragmatic
DUP faction that finds expression in people like
Peter Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson into advocating
taking a chance on those promises and, in so doing,
provoke a split between them and the fundamentalist
wing that looks to Ian Paisley for something akin
to divine guidance? They may not yet have fully
realised that the DUP is a totally different animal
from the UUP.
Sinn Féin itself, the party is tightly controlled
from the centre, extremely well disciplined and
certainly not given to publicly airing internal
disagreements. And, of course, the Ulster Unionist
experience of dealing with Sinn Féin will
not have been lost on the DUP either.
there is to be a schism in that party, it certainly
won't be before Ian Paisley expires. However, that
such a tactic looks doomed to failure is beside
the point. If that indeed is what Sinn Féin
is trying to do, then it bodes ill for much further
progress in the peace process.
our more rational moments, even the most avid supporters
of the peace process, like me, still wonder if Irish
republicans can ever really conceive it to be in
their best interests to be contributing fully to
a peaceful and politically stable Northern Ireland.
is another pattern beginning to emerge as well or,
rather, a sense of déjà vu. As Bertie
Ahern stood before the assembled media in Dublin
recently, with Gerry Adams grinning over one shoulder
and Martin McGuinness the other, to declare that
photographic evidence of decommissioning wasn't
possible, he reminded me, for all the world, of
John Hume. And that, in turn, caused me to reflect
on how Sinn Féin, through Hume, sucked dry
the SDLP before effortlessly taking its place as
the senior nationalist party in Northern Ireland.
Bertie already politically damaged by declaring
his willingness to release Jerry McCabe's killers
(and, crucially, receiving nothing in return for
his pains), as republican ex-prisoner Dr Anthony
McIntyre astutely points out, Sinn Féin is
still in a position to trade in the IRA at some
later date for electoral gains in the Republic.
Might we be witnessing a similar attempt to displace
the major party in the Republic? If we are, for
more than the obvious reasons I hope it is unsuccessful.
Ahern is someone I hold in particularly high regard,
not least because of his personal commitment to
finding a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland.
This no more amply, and movingly, illustrated than
by his coming directly from his mother's funeral
to continue negotiations in Belfast in the lead-up
to the Belfast Agreement. His total dedication,
however, like that of John Hume, might be viewed
by others merely as a weakness to be exploited.
the machinations of Sinn Féin, sometime soon
the peace process has to stop being just that, a
never-ending process, and deliver an outcome.
Reprinted with permission of the author.