Northern Ireland is full of gloomy anniversaries: Aug. 9, 1971 (internment), Jan. 30, 1972 (Bloody Sunday), July 21, 1972 (Bloody Friday), May 17, 1974 (Dublin and Monaghan bombings), Nov. 11, 1987 (Enniskillen bombing), and Aug. 15 1998 (Omagh bombing), to name but a few of the most depressingly prominent.
April 10, 2000 was not supposed to be like those, another occasion for further gloom and pessimism, but the exact opposite. After all, it was the second anniversary of the Good Friday agreement — the initiative that it was hoped was going to launch Northern Ireland into the new millennium.
Instead, this week saw it pass in a welter of recrimination, bickering, and blaming that was relieved only by the most tepid optimism coming from the Irish and British governments that we will (despite the gloomy signs) see the agreement fully implemented before Easter.
But the agreement was truly in the pillory and politicians were lining up to hurl rotten tomatoes at any hope that it will be rescued soon.
John Taylor, the deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, proclaimed that it was "dying."
Jeffrey Donaldson, the up-and-coming rival to David Trimble, declared that Unionists wanted weapons not words from the IRA before there was any chance of restoring the power-sharing executive.
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Nigel Dodds, of the Paisleyite Democratic Unionist Party, declared that the Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Mandelson, was "living in fantasy land" over the issue of IRA arms.
Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Fein assembly member for North Belfast, took a few shots at Mandelson also, demanding that he stop "spin-doctoring" and get on with the job of reinstating local government. Kelly, however, did not offer a plan as to how this laudable aim might be achieved.
That is, as of April 10, 2000, Northern Ireland is still stuck on the launching pad. Indeed, the pad had turned into a mire of mutual recrimination into which it appeared the agreement was swiftly sinking.
And that gives the people of Ireland, who voted so overwhelmingly for the agreement in May 1998, no cause for celebration.
The effort of the two governments to find a formula to revive the power-sharing executive within the next two weeks appears doomed. Trimble has tested the mood of his party and will not risk splitting it by going into government with Sinn Fein without guns up front. Anyway, he looks at the calendar and sees another upcoming anniversary just over a month away — May 22, the date by which, the agreement says, decommissioning should have been completed. Unionist thinking, with which Trimble is no doubt in tune, is that once that date passes, without decommissioning being achieved, then the British and Irish governments will be forced to scrap the whole thing and go back to the drawing board.
Sinn Fein and the IRA, meanwhile, as was made clear at the recent party ard fheis in Dublin, are in no mood to take risks even with words, never mind weapons, when it comes to decommissioning. They are vociferous in their proclamations about bringing back Stormont, though they have no pragmatic suggestions as to how it might be done. They speak as if they had no responsibility for the debacle of the agreement. It is all somebody else’s fault, just as in the times gone by when IRA car bombs killed innocent civilians it was the fault not of those who planted the device but those who failed to locate it in time.
Just because Sinn Fein and the Unionists have fallen back into their old bad habits does not mean that the British government should revert to its previous political passivity. The only serious option is to push ahead with those things in the agreement that can bring about change, so that the Irish people will, in the end, have something to celebrate in spite of those among their leaders who try to cheat them out of it.