The North is facing what is potentially the most serious crisis in the peace process since it began. A bold experiment in democracy, an innovative and imaginative political initiative to govern a divided community, might well come to nothing if Britain goes ahead and reintroduces direct rule because it fears that First Minister and Unionist Party leader David Trimble will be forced to resign, thanks to the IRA’s failure to begin decommissioning.
Anti-democratic forces have already seized the opportunity to exploit the current uncertainties. The so-called Continuity IRA’s bomb attack on a small hotel in Irvinestown at the weekend was a reminder of the alternative to progress facing the people, North and South.
What an abject, pathetic alternative it is.
To attempt to destroy a small business, run by Irish people, in a peaceful rural town in the lovely lakeland of County Fermanagh and to do it under the mantle of the cause of Ireland, is in truth a disgrace to that cause and a sure sign that those who support and carry out this kind of brutal and mean-spirited act have lost touch with the real world. What else can one say about people who claim that they will keep this up until Britain declares its intention to withdraw from Northern Ireland? When has bombing small hotels ever succeeded in winning a war?
Unfortunately, these illusions, however pathetic, are dangerous. If a political vacuum is created by the suspension of the assembly and its power-sharing executive, then the credibility of the whole political process could be undermined, especially as seen from the point of view of the republican movement. Already that credibility has been shaken, thanks to Trimble’s decision to conclude a pact with his party’s ruling body that was outside the terms of the Good Friday agreement, of which he was a signatory. It will be further shaken, perhaps to the point of collapse, if Sinn Fein and the IRA reject the voice of the overwhelming majority of the Irish people who are calling for the commitment on decommissioning to be honored without equivocation — and soon.
This sorry state of affairs would provide the opportunity for the likes of the Irvinestown bombers to pour their contempt on democratic politics with further outrages in the name of a cause they have long ceased to understand, never mind represent.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
No one knows this better than the current Sinn Fein leadership. They know what is at stake. They are making the transition from conspiratorial politics to consensual politics, from a view of the world that sees everything in terms of absolutes to one that is based on compromise and concession.
Gerry Adams said yesterday that he still was hopeful of a resolution of the current dispute, though his party continues to fire off mixed signals. It is to be hoped that he and his supporters keep a grip on the reality of the situation and not allow the narrow and demented visions of men like those who bombed that hotel in Irvinestown to frustrate the Irish people’s desire for peace.