Speculation is rife that the Clinton administration, either in the form of George Mitchell or the president himself, is poised to insert itself once again into the tangled weave that is the Northern Ireland peace process. Such willingness, if it exists, is indeed praiseworthy. Any reluctance, and it most assuredly exists, is certainly understandable.
When he finally sealed the deal that presented the world with the Good Friday accord last year, Mitchell was certain that here was a basis for a new politics in Northern Ireland, that in the words of the oh-so-carefully-crafted document lay the building blocks for a better future for all the people of Ireland. It would not be the end game, but it would be a means of pointing a clear and firm way to that future.
We are now in that future, almost a year later, and it looks distinctly murky, if not downright dangerous. The crux of the matter is decommissioning. The accord gives the IRA until spring of next year to begin handing over arms. But David Trimble and other unionists want decommissioning to begin now. In an op-ed in this issue, Martin McGuinness outlines the republican view. His concerns are entirely legitimate. So too are the feelings of unionists. There appears to be no easy answer to the impasse.
By way of illustration, two major U.S. papers have written editorials in recent days concerning the latest crisis. The Washington Post stated that while the Stormont accord did not explicitly require a start on disarmament at this stage, "the real politics of the accord compel it." The Chicago Tribune, on the other hand, wants to see the setting up of the new Northern Ireland government first. "Let the new leaders, including Sinn Fein representatives, sort out the disarmament issue later," the Tribune opined.
So not even the newspapers agree. Sounds like a case indeed for Clinton and Mitchell, the Batman and Robin of the peace process. One thing we can all agree on: the bat signal is shining in the sky over Northern Ireland. And the hour is late.