Category: Archive

Editorial Giving Bill a good view

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The prospect of a U.S. president’s visit, like the prospect of a hanging, concentrates the mind, if we may adapt Dr. Samuel Johnson’s famous remark. Already, the parties in Northern Ireland have been getting ready for President Clinton to drop by with a series of statements and appeals, each trying to set out their case and blame the other for the current mess.

The most interesting contribution came on Tuesday, from the IRA.

The seers of Ireland’s long and tortured peace process have been gathering to interpret the statement in the hope that it will provide some clue as to what might happen next. Would there be a breakthrough in time for Clinton’s arrival? was their main concern. And if so, did the IRA’s latest offering give any clue as to what it might contain and when it might occur?

Unfortunately, there is in the statement enough to justify both the optimists and the pessimists.

Let us look at the cause for hope first. It is contained in the second sentence in which the IRA says:

"We remain prepared to initiate a process which would completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use and to do so in a way to avoid risk to the public, misappropriation by others and ensure maximum public confidence." And later, near the conclusion, the IRA reminds us that it has not broken off contacts with the General John De Chastelain’s decommissioning body and that "we remain committed to discussions with them on the basis we have set out." The basis was established in its May 6 statement, which led to the first arms dumps inspections. These were undertaken with the understanding that Britain would meet certain commitments, including the full implementation of the Patten report on policing.

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The most recent IRA statement points the finger at Britain and says flatly that "the British government has not honored these commitments." This gives the pessimists enough reason to believe that there will be no further progress expected before President Clinton arrives in Ireland, and once he departs, without that progress, the prospect looms of a further unraveling of the Good Friday peace agreement.

The sorry thing about the current situation is that the elements for achieving a breakthrough are all there. The British government could, conceivably, follow up the IRA’s claim that it is still willing to "initiate a process" that will "completely and verifiably" put arms beyond use by taking concrete steps, especially in South Armagh to demilitarize meaningfully. The IRA would then be able to reengage with De Chastelain, and offer another confidence-building measure. The North’s first minister, David Trimble, could then remove his ban on Sinn Fein ministers attending meetings of the cross-border bodies. And, bingo: in flies Clinton, just in time for his lap of honor.

That would be especially pleasing in view of the speculation that Clinton will include Dundalk in his upcoming visit. If that turns out to be true, wouldn’t it be nice if when he reaches the border he could gaze toward South Armagh on the other side and see verdant Irish hillsides free of the ugly reminders of a war that has long been over? Britain could provide that view by chopping down a few of its watchtowers. It is still not too late.

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