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Inside File 2001, A Peace Odyssey

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

€ The scene: The international space station orbiting a couple of hundred miles above earth.

€ The time: The year 2001, the marching season clearly under way as clouds of dust rising from one small island are highly visible through space station porthole.

€ The event: Renewed political talks on the future of the North now being conducted in secrecy and isolation in the space station.

€ The moment, both in space and in time: Adams and Trimble are having a failure to communicate.

"Open the pod door, Adams, it’s getting warm out here on one side of my body and freezing on the other!"

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"I’m sorry, Dave, but I can’t do that."

"Why in the name of God not? Open the pod door in the name of the queen."

"Who?"

Trimble, now both sweaty and frigid in orange spacesuit, bangs pod door with gloved fist.

"Open the pod door and I’ll tell you a secret."

"What secret, Dave?"

"I’ll tell you my plan for the future unionist plantation of Mars."

"Mars is Irish, Dave. You can’t have it."

"What do you mean? Mars is clearly British. It’s red, for heaven’s sake. Open the bloody pod door."

"Sorry, Dave, but Sinn Féin has a plan to create an atmosphere on Mars and turn it all green."

"Over my dead body, Adams."

"Don’t tempt me, Dave."

"Is Paisley in there with you, Adams? I thought I saw him lurking around sucking something from a tube."

"Cyanide."

"What’s that, I didn’t quite hear you."

"Never mind, Dave. What’s the weather like out there? Need a bowler, umbrella?

"Don’t you get smart with me, Adams. Remember, the Peace Shuttle will be docking in about 12 hours and I’m the one with the seating priority. I am first minister, or maybe you’ve forgotten that."

"The only thing I’ve forgotten is, well, I won’t go into that. Listen, I’ve got a deal for you, Dave. You give us the Six Counties and you can have Mars, all red and no atmosphere."

"Why should I trust you, Adams?"

"Because I’ve got my paws on the pod door handle, Dave."

"The Ulster Unionist Party will never go for it. Everyone knows that Northern Ireland is bigger than Mars. Shove it up your rocket motor, Adams."

"Have it your way, Dave."

There is a few moments silence. Remember, in space nobody can hear you scream — or even sing "The Sash." Trimble is clearly mulling things over.

"Open the pod door, Gerry, and we’ll talk about it."

"Talk about what, Dave?"

"Don’t get thick. A swap. Northern Ireland for Mars."

"What will your British masters think, Dave?

"They’ll do anything to stop Mars from becoming green. Don’t worry about them, I have them wrapped around my little finger, at least the one I can still feel. Open the wretched pod door.

"Try saying please, Dave."

Silence.

"Oh, Dave, take a look below. I think our wee homeland is coming into view again."

"We’ll give you South Armagh, Londonderry and West Tyrone for Mars. Final offer."

"What’s Londonderry, Dave? A new planet?

"Don’t get wise with me, Adams. You know full well what Londonderry is. You can have the city, but we keep the county."

"Throw in Fermanagh, Dave, and we might be in the same galactic ballpark."

"Out of the question. Open the wretched pod door or I’ll, I’ll . . ."

"You’ll what, Dave? Face it, pal, your orbit is done. Tiocfaidh ár lá — and it has too."

"You’re talking in that strange language again. Space is playing tricks on your mind, Gerry. I’ll tell you what, you can have South Armagh, West Tyrone, Derry — there I’ve said it — and Down up to and including Newry."

"And just one thing more, Dave. We want a bank account on Mars to store all our shinner bucks from America. That way the Irish and British governments can’t get their hands on it and you have to give us a written guarantee that you’ll keep your orange mitts off it too.

"That sounds OK. Now open the pod door!"

"OK, Dave, I’m opening the pod door now. Don’t forget to wipe your feet as you come in. Hey, Ian, fancy a walk outside? It’s a lovely day, night, whatever. Of course I’ll let you back in the pod door. We can do a deal in advance if you’re worried. How about Ulster for Uranus?"

Meanwhile, back on earth . . .

South Armagh in particular. There has been much talk recently of a possible deal in which the Provos would cough up weapons in return for the British army pulling out of Northern Ireland, lock, stock and chopper. Gerry Adams has been muttering about militarists and securocrats messing up the peace process but has not been getting much joy. But Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s raising of the demilitarization issue is a trickier matter for her majesty’s government, which is finding it rather more difficult to convince locals and distant politicians alike that the string of hilltop forts dotted around South Armagh in particular are there for the greater public safety and are intended only for keeping an eye, or ear, out for restless "Bandit Country" Provos on the prowl.

Well, according to Phoenix Magazine, surveillance of ordinary ground level activity has nothing at all to do with the clear British reluctance to pull up stakes and leave the South Armagh hills to the sheep. Seems that tapping into the communication systems of the Republic is far more important than watching out for pig smugglers and even gun runners.

One fort in particular, atop Croslieve Mountain near Forkhill, is viewed by the British military and intelligence people as being particularly vital in keeping tabs on the independent Paddies to the south. Croslieve, known to the British military as Golf Four Zero, is quite simply the most important British military intelligence outpost in the North. According to Phoenix, Golf Four Zero enjoys "line-of-sight electronic surveillance of all the digital bearer networks (the communications highways of the Internet age) linking Dublin with every other part of Ireland. Using low-profile (disguised) microwave communications dishes, automated monitoring equipment sucks up every phone call, fax and e-mail in the greater Dublin area and towns beyond."

Begob, no wonder her majesty’s fusiliers won’t move. They know what Bertie’s going to say before he even says it.

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