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A View North The View from my Italian villa

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

I continue to be astonished by the references to my "Italian villa" in the columns of the Irish Voice. In spite of numerous efforts I have made in letters to the editor to correct that newspaper’s flights of fancy, I have clearly failed to make an impression.

Last week, thanks to the vivid imagination of the paper’s publisher, Niall O’Dowd, I was yet again made the proud possessor of what he described as an "Italian villa holiday home," which much to my surprise I find that I now own. I trust the editors over at the Irish Voice will furnish me with the address so I can spend some time there next summer. I look forward to it and can promise the gentleman concerned that I will send him a postcard: "Dear Niall, Wish You Were Here."

Since he has seen fit to elevate my humble residence to the status of a villa, I hope he gives me interesting neighbors. Say, Sophia Loren for starters. That would be very nice. I would love to look out of at least one of my Italian villa’s many windows and see Signora Loren pruning her vines. I presume she has vines around her villa, because I certainly want some around mine. And maybe a wine press to go with them so when my Special Branch friends show up I will have a little bottle or two of vino rosso to wet their palates as we plot the downfall of Sinn Fein and the entire peace process over a plate of pasta alla matriciana. As we all know, Special Branch palates are very fine indeed and expect only the best. In spite of their politics and sectarian background, they are not quite so fond of orange juice as the Shinners might think.

I hope that when I find out where my Italian villa holiday home is it will be on or near the Via Appia, the oldest road in Rome. It is a very straight road with no U-turns, unlike the road taken by the Shinners.

I think the villa should have a name. How about, Villa Della Pace Processo, just in honor of Mr. O’Dowd? Or perhaps Villa del Accordo del Venerdi Buono? That has a nice, hopeful ring to it and will be sure to put all the numerous guests from Special Branch headquarters in a very good mood as they conspire mischievously to undo all the great work Sinn Fein and the IRA have done over the years.

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Last week, conciliatory statements rained down on Northern Ireland like confetti at a wedding. Unionists acknowledged wronging nationalists and republicans and granted them the right to pursue a United Ireland through the democratic process. Nationalists and republicans pledged that their embrace of peaceful means to achieve their aims was without qualification and said that violence was a thing of the past.

Then along comes the IRA with its contribution to this sudden eruption of sweetness and light. Its statement said that the Good Friday agreement is "a significant development" whose full implementation would "contribute to the achievement of lasting peace." It further acknowledged the "leadership given by Sinn Fein throughout this process" and announced that it was appointing a "representative to enter into discussions with General De Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning."

No more bellicose statements about the struggle for Irish freedom — indeed, there was a very significant change of wording in the statement. The IRA declared that it is "committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland." The struggle for freedom has now become a search. A very different activity indeed. Some of the smarter Unionists have already taken note.

How did outbreak of good will come about? What transformed the normally dour and downbeat Ulster folk from their customary suspicious and intransigent view of things into participants in a virtual love-in?

The various steps towards this transformation, political and social, have been noted in this column over the years. But in the end, perhaps, Senator Mitchell must take a lot of the credit for simply getting Unionists and Shinners to negotiate directly with each other rather than through the medium of the British and Irish governments. It might well turn out to be that the most important break through came when the two sides broke bread with each other. Sinn Fein negotiators are said to have dined with Mitchell and their Unionist counterparts. Eating with someone is certainly one way to get to know and trust them. It is a form of intimacy, after all.

"Another sip of vino rosso, Gerry?"

"That’d be great, David, thank you."

Bottoms up!

Now that the IRA has committed itself to appointing a representative to link up with the De Chastelain decommissioning body, speculation has started as to who will be the chosen one. Understandably, no one is very keen to rush forward and claim the role. After all, up until recently, anyone giving away IRA arms or losing them could be subjected to the death penalty.

The press have named three possible candidates. Padraig Wilson, former commanding officer of the IRA in the Maze Prison, Brian Keenan, reputedly the chief of staff, and veteran republican Joe Cahill — long-time army council member and a former chief of staff himself.

Padraig Wilson said in June 1998 that decommissioning would eventually have to take place. Perhaps he will be chosen to follow through with this prediction.

Keenan earned his reputation as a clever planner thanks to a bombing campaign in which he was allegedly involved in Britain during the 1970s and for which he spent many years in jail.

The most intriguing prospect of all is, of course, Joe Cahill. Cahill is one of the few 1940′ men still around, having survived the imposition of the death penalty in 1942, the doldrums and disasters of the 1950s and 1960s, to play a leading role in the refoundation of the IRA in the form of the Provisionals in the 1970s.

The trouble is that Mr. Cahill is more used to acquiring weapons than giving them away. He was a frequent visitor to these shores in the 1970s and was caught with a ship full of guns in March 1973 en route from Libya. But whoever wins this particular beauty contest (and it may well be none of the above) one thing is certain: it will mean that the war is well and truly over

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