Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The '@#%*ing Peace Process

Former Taoiseach John Bruton got himself into hot political water when he declared, off the record, that he was sick of the (insert preferred expletive here) peace process. At the weekend, Brendan O'Connor claimed that he was now sick of the self same process. In the IT, Finonnuala O'Connor (surely the best SDLP spokesperson around, notwithstanding the fact that she isn't an elected representative) is saying that the peace process was founded on the contradiction between admitting SF into the democratic process without SF accpeting that process as fully legitimate.

Here's my take. The North was set up as a sectarian state. That's just a fact. Even David Trimble has admitted it was "a cold house for Catholics". As such, it helped to stimulate the growth of the Provisional IRA in circumstances of profound societal upheaval.

The peace process was a product of a desire on the part of both Nationalist and Loyalist communities to stop the increasingly vicious sectarian killings. It is all too easy to forget the horror of the Graysteel massacre, where a loyalist gang killed random Nationalists in a pub in 1994, or the Enniskillen bombing, where Provo thugs killed 13 Unionists attending the Cenotaph during the Armistice commemoration in 1987. In those years, murder was part of the daily routine in the North. We have come a long way.

But, in coming this far, we have allowed Sinn Féin too much latitude, especially in the South. We have forgotten the carnage, excused it, too readily. When David Trimble took a big political risk with his own supporters in 2000, by going into government without decommissioning, we gave him too little credit, and thereby allowed Sinn Féin off the hook when they didn't help him out.

We have also been too lax about the danger that a party which has strong links to an organised armed gang poses to our democracy. Irish people don't really seem that concerned about democracy, unless it happens to be in another country. Huge numbers of people were outraged at the allegation that Bush "stole" the US Presidential Election in 2000. But up till recently about 60% of Irish people were prepared to accept the possibility of Sinn Féin being in government without first getting rid of their IRA connections.

The Peace Process was a brave project and may have yielded lasting benefits. The situation which prevailed beforehand was not one which ought to remembered fondly. But we nodded at criminality for too long. The chickens are now coming home to roost. We may be able to salvage some of the gains, but the time for pussyfooting with thugs and criminals has ended.



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