Category: Archive

Editorial: Contempt for democracy

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Last week, an English reporter writing in The Guardian wondered why it was that the people of Ireland, North and South, had not taken to the streets in protest at the fact that the Good Friday Agreement, for which they had voted in such overwhelming numbers, was being subverted by the actions of the very men who they had elected on the promise of implementing that agreement.

A good question and one that deserves to asked again and again, if for no other reason than to remind people of the implications for democracy of recent events in the North.

The people of Ireland, in the North in particular, have been taking to the streets in protests for over 30 years now, as crisis has followed crisis. However, in the last two years, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, it seems that the euphoria with which it was greeted has been replaced by a growing resignation. A relentless series of blockages and delays has worn down the hopes generated in the heady days of April and May 1998 and has frustrated the realization of those expectations the agreement created.

The most recent setback, the British government’s decision to reintroduce direct rule on midnight, February 11, has left many feeling frustrated and disillusioned with the whole process. The dull weariness and resignation that characterized the North from almost two decades from the mid-1970s is making a come back. That is why the streets are not full, as they should, of angry protesters demanding their vote be respected. Resignation has never been the basis for a protest movement. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Of course, those chiefly responsible for the debacle, the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Féin, have their spin doctors in U.S. to tell their version of why it is they cannot deliver on their promises to the Irish people. They have so far only succeeded in engaging in an increasingly circular argument. The Unionists’ demand "No Guns, No Government," has been met with its mirror image in the republicans’ response, "No Government, No Guns." They cancel each other out. This would indicate that, as far as the future is discernible, it may be that devolved government and decommissioning will never be deliverable in the North.

However, change is still possible. The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, in New York this week, has committed himself to a course of action. He stated that the parts of the Good Friday Agreement which do not depend on the devolved government will be implemented, including police reform, the release of paramilitary prisoners and the review of the North’s repressive legislation.

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This is welcome news. The momentum for reform must not be allowed to run out of gas because the political institutions are no longer working. If Mandelson can demonstrate that he is determined to see this through, then it would help restore the trust which Sinn Féin is saying he has forfeited because of February 11.

Mandelson has still a chance to show everyone that politics can work in the North of Ireland and that resignation is premature.

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