|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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Efforts falling at the final hurdle, Northern
Ireland may have approaching elections but no prospect of
a return to devolved government in the immediate future. It
looked like it was going to be a synchronised swimming display.
Instead we got a lot of thrashing about in the water and the
risk of people drowning.
Tuesday 21st October promised fair. Elections
were announced by the British government for 26th November,
Gerry Adams made his statement (“We are opposed to any
use or threat of force for any political purpose” etc)
and then General John de Chastelain did his thing, speaking
about the IRA putting a substantial and significant quantity
of weapons beyond use. But the Ulster Unionist weren’t
convinced by a report which did not have the detail they wanted
and David Trimble announced they wouldn’t proceed. So
arose the difficult situation for moderate Unionists of going
into an election (to the NI Assembly) with no deal under their
belt. Undoubtedly the latter situation is good news for the
anti-Agreement Unionists and the DUP/Democratic Unionist Party.
But the results may not prove to be as traumatic as feared.
Ulster Unionists feel that they have been conned
before with promises of IRA disarmament which didn’t
amount to a hill of beans let alone explosives. The feel there
was no indication of where they are in the disarmament process.
It seems it was a case of the IRA’s maximum being less
than the Unionists’ minimum; possibly for a number of
reasons, including avoiding any stigma of defeat or capitulation,
the IRA was unwilling to give more details than that relayed
by de Chastelain. The Unionists, feeling that they had to
have certainty and transparency, felt they needed details
– how much of what was destroyed, and subsequently asked
for a timetable of the destruction of the rest of the IRA’s
armoury. The IRA does not dance, or want to be seen to dance,
to a Unionist tune; in due course they may reveal more but
it will already be in the context of a different ball game.
This game has already been abandoned. Once again it has been
a mismatch. You could say that the Unionists should have trusted
more; but they didn’t, it is understandable why they
didn’t, and that was that.
Given the fact that all the negotiations were
happening behind closed doors, it was all rather disempowering
for the ordinary citizen. There was no popular groundswell
of support, just quiet waiting. There were no people on the
streets demonstrating, no feeling that the politicians had
to be pressured by popular support for the process. Rather
there was simply waiting for them to get their act together,
and that act, in the end, fell apart.
There are things for the ordinary citizen to
do in Northern Ireland. We cannot just wait on the politicians
to get their act together because that, as we have seen so
often, can be waiting for a sandcastle to be built with the
tide coming in. Firstly pressure does need to be put on the
politicians, through letters, opinions expressed, and voting,
but that is only part of an answer. Secondly, we need to be
‘building the alternative now’ by rejecting sectarianism
and bringing people together on issues that matter both at
a community and a societal level. Thirdly, we need to get
our educational systems to deliver either through integrated
education or else meaningful interaction across the divide
for young people. Fourthly, we need to further develop policing
and policing alternatives (mediation, restorative justice)
which deal with the thorny issue of law and order so that
ceases to be a divisive factor. And fifthly, we need to build
the minimal concept of non-violence; not just that violence
has not worked in the Troubles but that it was bound to fail,
so that we can explore a peaceful future through new and innovative
ways of working apart and working together. We take ‘nonviolence’
(without a hyphen) as a further commitment to creative, imaginative,
and not-violent means of workings in all aspects of life,
including international relations.
That we get the politicians we deserve is a
popular adage. Without judging the rights and wrongs of the
current situation, until Northern Ireland can move beyond
arms-wrestling we will have this up and down, in and out,
local government. And even when that gets settled it will
not be, as we have said before, the end of history. That will
still have plenty of surprises in store for us. Fortunately
or unfortunately, the way forward has many twists and turns,
ups and downs yet, so may the road rise to meet us.
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