Category: Archive

Editorial ‘The Way Forward’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The discovery of a 300-pound car bomb outside an RUC station in North Belfast Tuesday is a grim reminder of what looms in Northern Ireland’s future if politicians continue to stoke the vacuum created by more than a year of political stalling and gamesmanship. As it stands, the peace process is now hanging on the thread that is the joint Irish-British government document entitled, a tad optimistically, "The Way Forward."

If anything should focus the minds of politicians, nationalist and unionist, it is the news of a large bomb sitting in a car parked on a city street. A car bomb is the ultimate symbol of the way backward. The bomb was, thankfully, detonated in a controlled explosion. But in a perverse way, the device may have laid out in clearer terms than any document what is the clear choice facing Northern Ireland at this critical juncture: politics, however imperfect or mutually uncomfortable, or a return to widespread death and destruction.

It is difficult not to believe, especially when referring back to the overwhelming public support for the Good Friday accord last year, that most people in Northern Ireland — God fearing and law abiding, as politicians frequently remind us — will not grin and bear the sight of politicians who presumably loath each other sitting in a room and more or less conducting the daily humdrum business of a normal society. Politics, after all, is the art of dealing with those you might not particularly like. The period that might be most unacceptable to unionists — that which precedes at least a start to IRA arms decommissioning — could be viewed by them as a kind of political Lent, during which they could offer up the suffering and indignity of it all for the good of society — at least, if they are not in particularly magnanimous mood, the part of it they purport to represent. If, as "The Way Forward" seems to suggest, that period might last only a few weeks, even the most true-blue unionist could probably stick things out by arriving for work late and leaving early, or taking a few sick days by the sea.

A week is a long time in politics, but a month can vanish quickly enough if cunning is applied. And Northern Ireland politicians lack for nothing when it comes to that particular characteristic. Either way, civil society, that elusive concept they are charged with advancing, will be to the good. The alternative, of course, is for unionists to rediscover the Good Friday accord and suffer in silence until next May and the decommissioning deadline that over 70 percent of voters actually endorsed in a referendum.

Should they reject both approaches, stick to their current guns, so to speak, it is not hard to imagine the stresses on the peace process being so great that the next car bomb actually goes off. Whether this one was such a device, or merely a warning of what might be, was unclear at press time. Whether it was the Provisionals or another republican faction was also undecided. In some respects, it doesn’t matter. Sinn Féin’s distress, presumably increased by the latest turn of events, either diminishes its influence with the Provisionals or allows other even more militant groups to gain ground by pointing to a peace process that is being allowed to die, even when there are the clear political means to save it.

At the outset of the peace process, Sinn Féin apparently made up its mind to pursue a political course that ran counter to decades of republican tradition, habit and stated purpose: that is to cut a deal with unionism. Unionism, which lived happily, but not ever after, in a state that was armed to the teeth, was not quite so ready for life in a society where guns would only be used for potting the occasional duck. Unionists have problems sitting down with people associated with armed terrorists. Well, whoever said politics was an easy way to earn a pension?

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Unionism now has an opportunity to permanently retire those same terrorists, or at least the great bulk of them. If they decline to take up the challenge, if the North descends into another round of murder and mayhem, they might find themselves being retired by an electorate that placed trust in their skills and presumably good intentions, only to be disappointed when it absolutely mattered most.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese