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Dublin Report: Mitchell’s the man to put political process back on rails

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

So, Sen. George Mitchell is back in Belfast. He is not surprised. And he made no bones about the fact that he had hoped that he would not have to come back. Later, he amended that by adding that he was glad to be in Northern Ireland again.

He hoped that he would not have to come back, but he was glad to be back?

You can take the first statement from the Provisional IRA, published in full in An Phoblacht with the same pinch of salt. It is a real Hobson’s choice, a curate’s egg. It all depends on the perspective form, which you care to view it.

Peter Robinson, the Rev. Ian Paisley’s understudy in the Democratic Unionist Party, has his own unique view of everything that smacks of being "Irish."

The IRA, he stated, is merely holding a gun to the head of the British prime minister, Tony Blair. He said there was a clear threat of a return to violence. The IRA was simply going back to "what it did best," he said.

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Unfortunately, David Trimble and other members of the Ulster Unionist Party were not far behind in their criticism. He described the statement as "rather menacing." But he added that his party was still fully behind the Good Friday accord. And he assured all and sundry that he intends to implement it which, of course, is why he decided not to resign as first minister, although his deputy, Seamus Mallon, honorably showed no hesitation in so doing.

He has no doubt that the Unionist Party is dangerously delaying the entire process.

The more you think about it, the closer you get to an understanding of what Mitchell might have been trying to say, rather unsuccessfully. He is glad to be back in Northern Ireland, but not to have to deal with the old intangibles.

However, he is not surprised that it has come to this. He chaired the meetings that culminated with the Good Friday agreement in April 1998 and is now in the position of being a "facilitator," a go-between for the various factions and parties that threaten to spin the North back into the abyss.

Instinctively, one suspects that Paisley, Robinson and the DUP might wish this to occur. The IRA was readily identifiable to them as the "enemy."

By extension, all republicans, all "Shinners," were also enemies. The world they wish to inhabit basks in shades of black and white. There are no rainbows, no multitude of colors or hues. It is the slightly comfortable, almost bearable world of them vs. us.

There are times when one suspects that Trimble seems to cherish that same degree of comfort in the cozy little world of Northern Ireland where compromise is not necessary and living with the neighbors a tiresome chore at best.

If you approach the IRA statement from such a narrow, pessimistic viewpoint, you are sure to find much solace in it.

But as Gerry Adams persistently insists, the most salient fact of all in relation to the IRA is that the cease-fire continues to operate. The Provisional IRA has not carried out any attacks on military personnel, installations, or the RUC for almost two years.

Therefore, the IRA still harbors some optimism that the "current political process," as the statement refers to it, continues to have a chance of success. Its reservations center on obvious unionist reluctance to enter into government with Sinn Fein.

In earlier statements, it declared that there would be no arms decommissioning. The latest does not even refer to the matter, except in a political context.

It points out that those who demand decommissioning in the current political climate are lending themselves to the "failed agenda, which seeks the defeat of the IRA."

Whatever about the cease-fire and the progress, or lack of it, with the peace process, there are few who will claim that the IRA has been defeated.

Even fewer will claim that it would ever admit to being beaten. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that not alone has the illegal republican army retained its volunteers but that it has even actively recruited more. With the release of prisoners, it may have emerged more strongly than ever.

Trimble posed a rhetorical question in his statement. Where is the

"seismic change" in republican attitudes, as mentioned by Blair?

The answer is, of course, that nobody knows, nobody, that is, except most probably Gen. John de Chastelain, the man who beavers away in the background to gain agreement on the decommissioning process.

Certainly de Chastelain has long since established fruitful relationships with the most senior representatives of the IRA, the only people who can really implement any "seismic change."

You can be quite sure that information imparted to him encouraged him to report back to both governments, the British and Irish, on such lines.

You can be just as sure that in the labyrinth, most secretive exchanges between representatives of the Irish government and those who retain close contact with the IRA leadership, such as John Hume, guarantees have been tendered to encourage such optimism.

Nobody will be surprised to see that there is a direct concurrence between that view and the stated views of people like Adams and Martin McGuinness.

While the IRA and Sinn Fein operate in tandem, they are not the same, as some unionists persist in arguing.

However, they are attached to the same root and branch. Perhaps Mitchell has already worked that one out. After all, St. Patrick had a much tougher job. He had to establish the similarity and the difference between the Divinity, three Gods in one, with just the use of a shamrock.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

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