By John Kelly
You can belt Humpty Dumpty off the wall. But what do you do after you have done it? That has to be the dilemma facing Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair cannot be far behind in the vexation stakes. Should they even bother to put Humpty together again?
People like David Trimble and Ken Maginnis will say no. John Taylor has already said no, repeatedly. And, of course, Peter Robinson and his mentor, Ian Paisley, never quibble about where they stand.
They will tell you that there is no prospect of them ever sitting with members of Sinn FTin. They will extend this to include republicans of all hues.
At least you always know what to expect of them, unlike Westminster and the new Northern Secretary, Peter Mandelson.
There are many unionists who appear to be respectable who nevertheless share their views about sitting at the same table as hated republicans.
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But do they not realize that we are now only about six weeks away from the effective marching season in Northern Ireland. They beat the drum again in Drumcree when, after only 71 days, the infant assembly was struck down.
It must have encouraged the extreme unionist right wing no end to learn that London will still dance to its tune.
The British Establishment, labelled the “Secureocrats,” by Martin McGuinness, can be nothing but happy.
The establishment has faced it all before. Even if they no longer have an Empire, even if the United Kingdom itself is edging towards a federation, perish the thought, they will always maintain a presence in Ireland.
The unionists, after all, are British. The Scots may be Scots. The Welsh may be Welsh. For that matter, the English may be simply the English.
But the unionists remain obdurately British. They may very well turn out to be the last of their kind in the world, with the possible remaining exception of the Falkland Islands.
In any relationship between the two islands, successive British governments have always sternly maintained their self-assumed superiority.
Despite the fact that Tony Blair is leader of the Labour Party and despite the appearance of being much more sympathetic in his Irish policy than his predecessor, the Iron Maiden, it seems that Westminster has lost not a fraction of its sense of hegemony.
But is it not high time that some straight-thinking members of the Labour Party dragged their Cabinet member’s back to heel? Surely some MP’s must see the writing that was written in large letters when the Northern Secretary restored direct rule?
The IRA and Sinn FTin have rounded on the British, denouncing them for what they see as being surrender to the infamous Unionist veto.
The IRA has withdrawn its interlocutor from the de Chastelain Commission, prompting many home-based revisionists to comment that the British response was correct.
One well-known newspaper columnist even suggested that the Northern Assembly should continue without Sinn FTin. How crazy can you get?
We, all of us on this island, have just endured 30 years of protracted violence. Ordinary, innocent British people have suffered terribly and wrongly as well.
Do any of us really want to return to such a situation?
When people like Tony Blair declared that the peace process was the only game in town, he was not joking. There are powerful elements within the IRA that have no intention of laying down their arms.
Even if they might be otherwise persuaded, they certainly will not do so under duress from either the Unionists or the British Government. In years gone by, the old IRA never surrendered its arms either. It dumped them, never to be used again except, perhaps, in Northern Ireland.
The Unionist Party laid down its own terms regarding a date for decommissioning. It has every right to do so. But the British government that signed the Good Friday Agreement in concord with its Irish counterpart has no right to unilaterally ignore the terms of that agreement.
It has posed serious problems for Irish nationalists who are just as eager as the majority of people in all of Ireland, and quite probably in all of Britain as well, to see the bitter strife ended once and for all.
The problems now confronting Bertie Ahern and the Irish government are even more difficult to resolve. While it seems to act as a partner with the British, the fact is that Westminster may be prepared at any time in the future to return to direct rule depending on the pressure unionists may put on it.
In other words, it will abide by the infamous Unionist veto.
So, where does that leave any of us?
Does it mean that if the pot boils over at Drumcree later this year, or if the Unionist Party is not satisfied that the IRA has surrendered quite enough Semtex, or laid down enough guns, that it will implement a further suspension?
This has to be predicated by the assumption that there will be a future Assembly. And that is by no means certain.
The next step the unionists will almost certainly take is to seek a review.
Out will come the shopping list. Demands will be made again. A hard-line may be taken, especially in relation to the hated name change of the RUC.
Sinn FTin may then take a different line, insisting that international provisions should be built into any future agreement, guaranteeing that no government can unilaterally suspend the Northern Assembly.
Even at the end of last week, we did not learn precisely what happened with the IRA statement to the De Chastelain Commission.
We only know that there were two, that General De Chastelain regarded the second as being highly satisfactory but that it came too late for Peter Mandelson who apparently wanted to announce the suspension of the Assembly on the main 6 p.m. news.
Was it really reason enough to push Humpty Dumpty off the wall?
One thing is now certain. If there is going to be a review, and perhaps there should be, the Irish government cannot be caught on the hop again.
It will have to ensure that there can be no unilateral suspension of any future assembly.
The Republic of Ireland has a right to a real say in the affairs of Northern Ireland as well. After all, it has paid enough of the price.