Category: Archive

Editorial: Outline of deal rattling in the closet

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Yet that is where Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, and the leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, Mark Durkan, found themselves as of Tuesday this week.
“Once more into the breach dear friends, once more . . . “
The intervening five years have left many aspects of that historic agreement unimplemented. Human rights legislation, policing issues, the continued presence of heavily fortified security installations, and — most glaring of all — the still active ranks of illegal paramilitary organizations, were an embarrassing and frustrating reminder that agreeing to an agreement was one thing, doing something about it was quite another.
Of course, progress has been made in the years since 1998 — as both governments never tire of reminding us — with the fatality rates from paramilitary actions dropping drastically. But the truth is that a large part of those years have been spent in mutual recriminations and finger wagging as each side tried to blame the other for the failure to fulfill the potential that was hailed so vociferously on April 10, 1998 and that is still there. These latest talks were intended to tie up all the loose ends, and “nail down the details,” so the people of Ireland could look forward to a working settlement that was based on genuine consensus, trust and cooperation.
In October last year, following the latest suspension of the Northern Ireland government, Prime Minister Blair made a bold, no-nonsense speech, outlining clearly what everybody’s responsibilities were in terms of the agreement. He declared that the time was past for “inch-by-inch’ negotiations, and that now the gestures had to be big, all-inclusive, and dramatic. His impatience and frustration were, understaqndably, barely held in check. After all, Blair had seized upon the Northern Ireland problem within weeks of coming into his first term of office with the aim of throttling it out of existence so that his administration could get stuck into more pressing issues. That was in 1997. Almost six years on, and well into his second term in office, the prime minister finds that the Northern Ireland problem is still throttling the patience and skills of his administration. His bold speech of five months ago has sunk into the quicksand of Northern Ireland, which has swallowed up so many before it, as he got bogged down in the inch-by-inch discussions that he promised would be no more.
Observers are now talking about the “bones of a deal” being ready, including all the contentious issues of paramilitary disbandment, policing, the fate of fugitives, the demilitarization of the situation, human rights, the stability of the devolved government’s institutions and the verifiability of whatever gestures the IRA undertakes to shore up the peace process. Flesh had better be put on these bones very soon indeed, or this process will end up, like so many before it, as a skeleton in the political closet, rattling around occasionally to remind us all of what might have been.

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