OLDEST IRISH AMERICAN NEWSPAPER IN USA, ESTABLISHED IN 1928
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Inside File: Making sense of it all. Yeah right!

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

You’re an average New Yorker reading your morning paper. The news from Northern Ireland is not good. Ireland doesn’t generally rate too highly against the baseball scores. But you had an Irish great-granny and headlines with "Ireland" or "Irish" sometimes catch your eye. Lately, you have been seeing more of them. Perhaps it’s Clinton. He’s been there once or twice. Like the president, you want these Catholics and Protestants to work things out. Why in the name of, well, God, are they at odds in the first place?

Your gut instinct tells you that fault for the mess in Northern Ireland probably lies with both sides, all sides. And definitely the British. Oh, those British. Thank God we won back in 17, 17, whatever. How many sides are there over there anyway? Which side is more to blame than the others.? There’s always one that’s more to blame. Isn’t there?

It all seems very confusing. But now you are determined to understand the situation a little better, this Irish conundrum, or is it British? Over a couple of days you buy a few papers: The New York Times, New York Post, Daily News, Newsday and USA Today.

You begin with Thursday’s Times and its front page headline: "Accord In Ulster Hits a Roadblock Over Disarmament. The lower headline states that Protestants, oh those Protestants, "Won’t Serve With IRA Ally Until Guerrillas Agree to Give Up Guns." Oh, those guerrillas. Didn’t they once call them terrorists?

You read the story and get the feeling that the Protestant, that is to say, unionist, point of view, seems to have some merit. But then again, didn’t the IRA agree to give up their weapons a while back? What’s the problem with waiting a few months longer after all these years? "Disarmament has been the principal block to progress," the Times reporter writes in the penultimate paragraph. But anyone can disarm and quickly rearm. Is there nothing else blocking all this so-called progress?

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Newsday checks in

Next up is Newsday. It has a report from Reuters news agency. Protestant leaders have rejected a plan aimed at salvaging a shaky peace deal. They "scuttled" a last-ditch effort by the British government to get a devolved Belfast government up and running. Again, IRA guns are presented as a reason. It’s a "sticky issue," the report says. But the plan was a British government one so it can’t have been all pro-IRA. The report concludes that the British government is "frustrated and embarrassed" by the "Protestant" rejection. Aren’t they supposed to be on the same side?

The next day brings little relief. The Times headline reads: "One Agreement in Ulster: Assembly Session Is a Farce." The lower headline states: "Protestants Boycott and a Catholic Resigns." You remember reading somewhere years ago how the word "boycott" came into the English language. Didn’t it have something to do with starving Catholic farmers shunning a Protestant muckymuck?

There is a Times editorial. "Ireland’s Precarious Peace." The Protestants took only 15 minutes to reject the British peace plan. That was quick. Can’t have been much of a plan. Now let’s get this straight. According to the editorial, Sinn Fein "signaled" that the IRA would disarm. But the IRA did not "promise" to disarm "as the Unionists sought." But these people are terrorists right? Why would the Unionists believe a promise from a bunch of terrorists is any better than a signal? Go figure!

Oh well, next paper. USA Today, as its name suggests, concentrates mostly on American news. The rest of the world is on page seven today. The bottom of it. But at least Northern Ireland is top of the world pile. "Unionists won’t join assembly," is the headline. Same old stuff. British unionists having problems with IRA guns but also the British government. President Clinton is saying he doesn’t believe "this" is going to fall apart. What’s left of "this" to fall apart anyway?

The New York Post next. The Friday edition has an editorial headed: "What the IRA Hath Wrought." The editorial states that "both sides" — only both? — "have much to answer for in the sweet bye-and-bye. But that doesn’t speak to the immediate issue, which is that the IRA and its political front, Sinn Fein, are not abiding by the most critical element in the accord of Good Friday 1998 — the mandatory decommissioning of weapons."

Boycotting

The Post reckons that it’s understandable that unionists boycotted the "fledgling Belfast legislature." Gee, this boycotting thing could catch on. You don’t like the opposition so you take a hike. Well if parliamentary democracy isn’t the be-all and end-all, maybe the Post should suggest the same course of action on Capitol Hill next time things get rough.

The Daily News has a headline stating that Clinton believes the "Irish feud" is fueled by pettiness. Everyone’s Irish now? What happened to the British? According to the report, the president appeared to be aiming his barbs at both David Trimble and Gerry Adams. Clinton’s barbs came at a press conference on, well, gun control. America has its decommissioning problems too. But at least politicians turn up for work to argue the issue. Boy, this Northern Ireland business is confusing. So how about those Yankees? What do all these papers say? At least I didn’t totally waste my money.

Now you see it, now . . .

There it was. For one millisecond. Not even a split one. A virtually invisible, nonexistent fraction of time. A nationalist/republican government in Northern Ireland. It appeared and vanished last week faster than even a unionist could say no. As such, it passes into history with a perfect record by the wee North’s standards. It didn’t oppress anybody. Not a soul, not a sinner. Neither Billy Boy nor Shinner. It didn’t abolish the border. That might have taken a full minute. But a green government did exist, at least in theory, like one of those sub-atomic particles they race around in tubes in places like Switzerland or Nevada. It lasted just about long enough for a unionist to make a joke about Martin McGuinness being nominated by Sinn Féin as the executive’s minister for agriculture. Something about his knowledge of fertilizer. Ha ha! So all is not doom and gloom. Humor had its moment and the wee North didn’t fall apart any more than it has over the last few decades. Perhaps next time the parties can agree to an extended five-minute term. Now that would be something to tell the grandkids.

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