By John Kelly
The answer to the old chestnut "Will they or won’t they?" is that they will certainly have to come up with something.
Belfast’s Irish News had it just about right last week when it headlined the fact that Sinn Fein and the other Northern Ireland parties have gone too far to come back. Against all the odds one man who has settled into his brief as minister for education is Martin McGuinness. And he seems very happy in his role.
Would it be right that, for the sake of a pottage of Semtex, he should be hurled back into the glum role of attempting to explain intractable attitudes of the IRA toward weapons decommissioning?
There are many who will argue that the IRA should not and cannot begin the process. They will say that the loyalists are not following that line. Or they will say that nothing is settled until everything is settled.
The answer to such arguments is that the IRA does not have to disarm. What it has to do is to satisfy Gen. John de Chastelain that the process is under way.
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In turn, what he has to do is to assure the Assembly, along with the British and Irish governments, is that it is happening, or will certainly happen.
The three major parties concerned, namely the governments and the assembly, will either be satisfied or not. It behooves them to inform the public of their reservations or lack of them.
But it would certainly be dangerously and wrongly premature on any of their parts to insist that the Assembly should be pulled down because of any dissatisfaction. In short, decommissioning is not a prerequisite for the
implementation of the agreement and the good government of Northern Ireland.
It can only become a major problem if it is perceived to be so. Since the IRA guns have remained silent, with the exception of the fringe groups such as the Real IRA or Continuity IRA, it has to be accepted that the cease-fire is effective. The IRA is no longer at war. So why doesn’t it make some show of decommissioning even now?
Gerry Adams probably put it in stark perspective last week when he urged Unionists in a speech at Newry to be patient on the question. Unequivocally, he claimed that it is difficult to get the IRA, or any of the armed groups, to hand in its guns.
Indicating that there is indeed a new thaw in relationships within the North, he also claimed that he could see the problem from the Unionist viewpoint. He also said that he is committed to disarmament and that decommissioning is achievable, but only on a voluntary basis.
Unionist threats to pull the assembly down unless there is instant decommissioning are regarded as threats within the nationalist community. Any attempt to act in such a fashion would be regarded as a virtual declaration of war. The consequences could be much worst than anything that has gone before.
The February deadline laid down by the Unionists, one that First Minister David Trimble is obliged to support for the sake of his own political skin, is a mistake because it is perceived by the IRA as an ultimatum. It has already proved beyond any doubt that it will not bow to such threats.
Thus the deadline makes decommissioning all the more difficult to achieve. It is of such fundamental importance that it cannot be used as a political football. And that is how the unionists have used it, especially the right-wing faction, based in Britain, that still exercises a considerable degree of control over the Conservative Party.
If the British government is not satisfied with the de Chastelain report and does suspend the Northern Executive, it will be a disaster.
On the other hand, the Irish News is also correct when it makes the point that the vast majority of nationalists want to see decommissioning take place. They want to see it because they realize that the best option for the agreed united Ireland lies in the full implementation of the agreement and the continued growth of cross-border institutions.
Most of all, like the majority south of the border, they want to experience a genuine peace. And they want it now, with none of the uncertainties that the possession of guns and Semtex guarantees. Economically, of course, business interests, North and South, want to see the North completely stabilized. They know that the Celtic Tiger can flourish on both sides of the artificial divide.
Politically, Sinn Fein stands in the best position it can occupy at this juncture. Tribunals and political scandals continue to erode the power enjoyed by Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail. There is every reason to believe that an election is on the cards in the Republic, possibly within the year.
The astounding fact is that Sinn Fein could end up holding the balance of power in any future Dail. Indeed, it is virtually certain that Fianna Fail will not gain its perpetually cherished single majority. Coalitions are inevitable in Ireland within the foreseeable future. There is no way that a single party, except one as traditional as Fianna Fail, will attract the necessary votes to form a
majority, especially among young people.
Despite all of the denials that have been issued, there is nothing to prevent Adams, or even McGuinness, from running for election in the Republic. One man who has not denied anything because he has not been asked is Pat Doherty, from Carrigart, Co. Donegal. There is certainly nothing to stop him from standing in his native constituency. Sinn Fein has already put up a more than decent showing in recent elections. It could certainly obtain as many as six seats in any future contests.
The IRA must engage in some lateral thinking. Is it of any real use to lose such opportunities for the sake of a few pounds of Semtex?
There are few who would argue that it is.