All of the main parties, North and South, have not only recognized the failed, sectarian political entity of Northern Ireland, but agreed there will be no change in its constitutional status until nationalists there become a majority.
The IRA, one of the world’s oldest and most efficient guerrilla armies, has dumped and destroyed its arms, and stood itself down.
All this in exchange for a solemn promise of equality for Irish citizens north of the border.
It has been clear for some time that this is the one thing to which Ireland’s unionists will not willingly acquiesce. Time and again, they have delayed the implementation of the Good Friday agreement, always
blaming everyone but themselves for the delay.
Ten years after the first IRA ceasefire, the police service is still overwhelmingly unionist in outlook and has not yet won the respect of nationalists; public buildings still fly British Union Jack flag, with
no Irish tricolor alongside it; the North’s elephantine public sector is still dominated by unionists, and Catholics are still twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants; the road linking Belfast and Dublin, a six-lane highway in the Republic, becomes an ordinary,
two-way road in the North; and unionists still refuse to participate in government with their neighbors.
Now, the time has come for equality. The British government has the main responsibility to implement the Good Friday agreement, if necessary over the heads of intransigent unionists.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who took the plaudits for the peace deal at his party conference this week, must now act.
Unionists have grown used to the idea that if they refuse to share power, the only consequence will be for direct rule from Britain to continue. Blair must let them know that their new choice is to cooperate with equality for nationalists, or face a form of joint London-Dublin authority.
President Bush, who has stuck with the Good Friday agreement through thick and thin, has a key part to play here. He must stand at Blair’s shoulder, and stiffen his friend’s resolve when the unionists attempt once more to scupper the agreement.
The Irish government has a vital role, too. When it comes to the North, its Fianna Fail and Progressive Democrat ministers must put aside short-term electoral arithmetic, and stand up straight for Irish national interests.