POOLBEG PRESS £15.99 (562PP) (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897
BODLEY HEAD £20 (338PP) £18 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

Paisley, by Ed Moloney
Great Hatred, Little Room, by Jonathan Powell

Rocky Road to peace

Just when the canon of literature on the Northern Ireland Troubles seemed pretty much complete, along come two books which add to it hugely. One comes from journalist Ed Moloney, the other from Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair's long-time chief-of-staff. Ed Moloney likes the peace but does not like the peace process, regarding both Paisley and the republican movement (of which he has previously written in A Secret History of the IRA) as pestilential elements on the Irish scene. His thesis is that, although at opposite ends of the spectrum, they were of great benefit to each other.

Paisley's blood-curdling anti-Catholic rhetoric hardened attitudes and strengthened the IRA. Its terrorism would convince many Protestants to banish partnership and support Paisley as unionism's militant figurehead. This was acknowledged in the 1970s by an IRA leader, who said: "Paisley is the best recruiting sergeant we've got." The sectarian symbiosis lasted for decades.

But in recent years a new symbiosis came into play, with vociferous loyalists and violent republicans coming together not to continue the discord but to end it. Moloney burrows further into the closed world of the DUP than anyone before, exposing the internal machinations needed to convert an apparently utterly negative party into one willing to go into government with republicans.

At the heart is Paisley's deputy Peter Robinson, who has been chosen to replace him. Robinson favoured the deal and propelled his leader that way, but it could not have been done had not Paisley decided to work with Martin McGuinness (that "murderous godfather"). Why did Paisley add this astounding coda to his career? Moloney ranges through the possibilities, including the wish of a man in his eighties to do something constructive before meeting his maker, or a revenge on the Protestant establishment.

Moloney is surely right to suggest that the answer may be the simplest of all: "he went into government with Sinn Fein because he could, and because the Provos made it possible". Whatever the other reasons, it is inconceivable he would ever have agreed to serve as anyone else's number two. Only when his party vanquished its rivals, making the post of First Minister his for the asking, did he ditch the approach of a lifetime.

As a journalist, Moloney is one of Belfast's finest. As a British diplomat, Jonathan Powell has produced one of the half-dozen best books of the Troubles, telling how he functioned as Blair's negotiator with the major players, including Paisley and the republicans. He was the ultimate insider, closeted in hundreds of meetings with "the slightly threatening bearded face" of Adams and "the clear, chilling eyes" of McGuinness. It was clear that republicans were in the business of negotiation, but it was not clear they were prepared to ditch their weapons.

At every step, Powell had to judge whether the IRA was serious about discarding its armoury, and whether Adams was serious about attempting to deliver the hard men. Powell writes in a personal manner, with deft character sketches: Adams was intelligent, subtle and impressive but could be duplicitous; Paisley could appear "at his hectoring worst".

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern came within an ace of punching David Trimble. Peter Robinson was a sophisticated negotiator. All this is told without much ego, in a classically self-effacing civil-service suppression of the self. The book is also readable, avoiding getting bogged down in the minutiae.

Many people assume the ending of the Troubles was inevitable, but that is not the impression left here, with an often chaotic process disrupted by events and personalities. The players oscillate from euphoria to despair, breakthrough to setback. Blair and Powell "collapse in exhaustion-induced hysterical laughter". At one time all looks bleak and hopeless. Finally, it all came together. The sense of hope played its part; so did the evolution of one-time hardliners into capable negotiators; so did the growing sense that it was all fated to end not in victory for anyone, but in a deal including everyone.

The argument is often heard that Blair gave the IRA too much and should, for example, have kept prisoners locked up for longer. But it paid off: the peace process succeeded through diplomacy, so that Northern Ireland today is a better place than it has ever been. Powell goes on to make the case for dialogue in other parts of the world and to argue that, even when people are dying, a peace process should be kept alive. Maybe that wouldn't work everywhere but, after all the years, all the setbacks and near-despair, it worked in Belfast.



David McKittrick's 'Lost Lives' is published by Mainstream

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices