Ireland:. Success at last after decades of bombs and years of talks

It was the best of years, the very best of years. It was a time of frustration and disillusionment, of long, tedious and apparently fruitless talks; and then suddenly it was a time of breakthrough and success, and a new dawn.

The Troubles had gone on for so many decades, and the talks had lasted so many years, that, when it came, most hardly knew how to react. So they under-reacted, largely going about their business and getting on with their Christmas shopping. No one can foresee the future, and so no one can say definitively that the Troubles are over. There are extremists on both the republican and loyalist fringes who may yet make bombs that may yet kill people.

But it feels over. It feels as if the Troubles have run their course, as if they had a beginning, a middle and an end, an end which has now been reached. The Troubles took many lives and ruined many others, bringing grief and bitterness on a huge scale. Yet now they feel like a thing of the past, a phase that wreaked havoc but whose destructive force is now largely spent. Its terrible legacies will remain, both in human terms and in the many still-unresolved issues, but the sense is that the worst of it is past.

The new settlement feels right, and much more than this, it feels remarkably stable. It hardly needs to be said that many crises lie ahead, some of them foreseeable and some of which will come out of the blue. The new arrangements will be severely tested in the months to come. But in some as yet unexplained way, politics has ceased to be centrifugal. Most, but not all the forces at work are now propelling politicians towards the centre, away from the old irresponsibility and towards the duty of helping run an administration.

The new arrangements mean very different things to different people. Republicans are still republicans and Unionists are still Unionists, but both accept the new institutions as providing a proper place in which their differences can be thrashed out. One side will be pushing for a united Ireland while the other attempts to cement the union with Britain, but on a day-to-day basis both are now charged with helping govern Northern Ireland in a fair and equitable way.

The exercise of real power already seems to be concentrating minds wonderfully. It was Louis McNeice, a Belfast poet, who once wrote: "I note how a single purpose can be founded on a jumble of opposites." That seems to describe what is beginning to happen.

The new system has been cunningly devised to ensure fairness, with each minister being shadowed by committees headed by figures from other parties. Any attempt to put through discriminatory policies will result in a shrill blowing of whistles and an exacting scrutiny of ministerial motives.

It is in other words a sort of political goldfish bowl where all the parties can, and will, police each other. And, in addition to the committees, the big four parties, two Unionist and two nationalist, are all in the cabinet and can thus watch all the other ministers.

It is a complex structure loaded with checks and balances, and not one designed for speedy decisions. But it is one which will allow maximum scrutiny and accountability. Its architects designed it this way for a very good reason, in that they knew they needed a system which could function without trust.

There will be no need for huge leaps of faith and risky acts of trust, for transparency has been built into the system, together with a sharing- out of power among the major parties. More subtly, it also requires politicians to develop skills of give-and-take, deal-making and building cross-party alliances. These are exactly the political black arts which in the past Belfast has so sadly lacked.

The next big crisis comes early in the millennium, with yet another confrontation on arms de-commissioning looming in January and February. David Trimble has more or less committed himself to pulling out of the whole thing if de-commissioning does not happen, but neither the IRA nor Sinn Fein have promised that it will.

There have been many predictions that IRA de-commissioning will happen, but those who forecast it say privately that it will happen because it must, rather than because of any republican guarantees. A lot of fingers are crossed. Maybe it will or maybe it won't; maybe the IRA will come up with some alternative move so ingenious and so effective that it will meet everyone's requirements in a completely unexpected way.

Whatever happens, there may well be a new year crisis which will rock the system. But it is pretty much beyond belief that the crisis will become a catastrophe which will destroy everything. Just about everyone fervently wants this thing to work, and that includes David Trimble and Martin McGuinness.

While there are certainly some in the Assembly who verge on the venal and are motivated by money and power, nobody really thinks that Trimble and McGuinness are in this camp. Both slogged through decades of the Troubles as tribal warriors and neither has changed affiliation.

But both now think of this new dispensation as a level playing-field where they can grapple with their differences through politics and not by other means. They, therefore, have a common interest in preserving and protecting the system, and the logic of this is that they will find a way to bridge the de-commissioning gap.

It seems almost unreal to report that the sworn enemies of yesterday have so quickly become absorbed in the mundane business of regional development, committee chairmanships and budgetary constraints. But it has happened. When it eventually came about it had been so long signalled, and was preceded by so much tedious wrangling, that the breakthrough seemed more of an anti-climax than a cause for celebration.

Most feel in their bones that the war is over, even though they prefer not to proclaim it in public. When they come to lift a glass on New Year's Eve, however, many will allow themselves the luxury of hoping and believing that the new millennium is about to usher in a new golden age of peace.

Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate