there are any determinedly optimistic souls still
dreaming of forward movement in the peace process
after the May 5th Westminster and local government
elections in Northern Ireland, they are in for a
a miracle, the political middle-ground inhabited
by the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists is going to
be all but obliterated, leaving the future to be
decided largely by Sinn Féin and the DUP.
And what a future that promises to be: if nothing
else, we will be able to view at first hand the
political equivalent of an irresistible force meeting
an immovable object.
is no chance the DUP will use an increased electoral
mandate to negotiate towards reinstatement of the
assembly and an all-inclusive executive. Any lingering
doubts about that have been blown away by "not-an-inch"
pre-election pledges from both party leader Ian
Paisley and his deputy Peter Robinson. Paisley has
stated that his party will not engage in fresh talks
with Sinn Féin "because they have lied
repeatedly and cannot be trusted".
as if to dispel any notion that future developments
might cause him to change his mind, he added: "Whatever
Sinn Féin and the IRA do now would make no
difference. . . there will be no fresh talks with
his part, Peter Robinson has suggested that power
sharing with Sinn Féin, if it ever becomes
feasible, "is a matter for the next generation
to look at".
would be foolish to imagine that Sinn Féin,
with its electoral growth continuing apace on both
sides of the Border, might abandon the republican
tactic of promising much but delivering little,
and then blaming everyone else for the ensuing political
is too early to predict with any certainty who will
be blamed for wrecking Gerry Adams's most recent
"initiative" (where he appeared to call
on the IRA to disband). But there are two things
of which we can be sure: the initiative will come
to nothing and, whoever is blamed, they won't be
remotely connected to the republican movement.
Sinn Féin's world, everyone, republican or
otherwise, has a role to play: for them, it is that
of the well-intentioned victim, for the rest of
us, the malevolent victimisers.
tactics have served them well: they have succeeded
in routing their nationalist rivals, the moderate
SDLP; managed to bring the Ulster Unionist Party
almost to the point of self-destruction; and, as
a direct result of the latter, helped elevate the
DUP to pole position within unionism. And be under
no illusions, despite all protestations to the contrary,
the DUP attitude to power-sharing with republicans
is to the liking of Sinn Féin.
and the DUP's lead status within unionism, suits
Sinn Féin for it ensures that political stability
in Northern Ireland will, for the foreseeable future,
remain a pipe-dream.
the DUP relies on Sinn Féin to frighten what
has become a majority of the unionist electorate
into its comforting arms.
there is no doubting that Sinn Féin and the
DUP need each other: but as mortal enemies, not
partners in a devolved government.
seems likely that Tony Blair's Labour Party will
be returned to power at the elections, but that
doesn't mean we should expect anything in the way
of fresh initiatives from Downing Street.
fact, we are more likely to see a gradual backing
away from the process by a British government that
increasingly considers political development here
to have been taken, for the time being at least,
as far as it can.
have been signs of that already, with what seemed
at the time to be a tactical silence following the
murder of Robert McCartney now looking more and
more like a withdrawing from the process. With Blair
entering his final few years as prime minister,
it seems highly unlikely that he will want to spend
his time wrestling with the well nigh intractable
problems of Northern Ireland.
besides, from a British perspective, the peace process
even as it stands must be considered a success.
Granted, it hasn't been as successful as it might
have been, but with thousands of troops no longer
bogged down here and peace of a sort now prevailing,
the situation is light years beyond what it once
Irish Government, however, cannot afford to withdraw
from the peace process to anything approaching the
same extent as the British. An unfortunate side
effect for it has been the accelerated electoral
growth in the South of a semi-democratic Sinn Féin
and the consequent threat this poses to the wellbeing
of a sovereign, liberal democratic state.
democratic norms are to be protected, future battles
in the Republic will need to be fought on both the
political and legal fronts.
view of that, it is vital that the Irish Government
continues to facilitate and encourage full co-operation
between the Garda, the PSNI and other law-enforcement
agencies right across the island. Politics may be
in deep freeze, but, unfortunately, the organised
criminality that sometimes marches alongside is
far from comatose.
with permission from the author.