There can be no reasonable doubt but that a completely new situation now exists. Firstly, there is a groundswell of desire for peace throughout the population of Ireland, both North and South, including many within the unionist community, as well as the entire nationalist community, in Northern Ireland. For the first time in 20 years, this desire is accompanied by a conviction that peace is achievable . . . on terms which are neither unreasonable nor unrealistic.
Also, and amazingly, for the first time in 20 years, this desire for peace is now embraced by 'the republican movement'. There is evidence that Sinn Fein and the IRA have moved from absolutist and dogmatic statements of the 'inalienable right to self-determination for the people of Ireland as a whole', to a more profound reflection on, and a more realistic understanding, of the meaning of the phrase, 'the people of Ireland as a whole'.
There is evidence that (Sinn Fein and the IRA) now accept that physical force is not working and will not ever work in advancing their aims, and only peaceful means are appropriate to a proper understanding of what 'self-
determination' in Ireland means, and that only political and democratic means are relevant to the hope of obtaining consensus between Irish communities divided over the very meaning of 'self-determination'.
It is of immense significance to have Sinn Fein now speaking about a 'strategy for peace', or a 'peace process', and engaging in talks about how this process could be developed.
Even more significant is the evidence that Sinn Fein has come to speak of agreement and consent and respect for the diversity or traditions as part of their 'peace process', and of the need to work for the agreement of the people of Northern Ireland through a process of reconciliation, aimed at winning the allegiance of the unionist, as well as of the nationalist, tradition within the island of Ireland.
Transcending everything else in significance, however, is the clear evidence emerging over recent months of the real possibility of a permanent cessation of violence by the IRA. This is surely a prize that is not to be easily set aside. This, however, is not to say that the prize can be easily won, or that carrying it off is without uncertainty and risk.
It might be said that 'the price is too high'. It may be said that governments may not and should not yield to the threat of terrorist violence. This is true; but governments should surely respond to the offer of peace, when this is what they have been striving for over two decades. They should welcome a desire by paramilitaries and their supporters to enter the democratic process, since this has been a major aim of their policies for 20 years . . . governments must not yield, or be seen to yield, to the threat of loyalist terrorism, any more than to the threat of IRA terrorism.
A particularly weighty responsibility rests at this time upon the republican movement. They must respond to the mood of the people and choose the path of peaceful politics.
That path is now, for the first time, within their grasp. Their response will be a test of the sincerity of their commitment to a peace process. There must be tangible signs and meaningful proofs that Sinn Fein is in earnest in its desire for peace and for the cessation of violence.
The 'armed struggle' is immoral and has no moral justification and no political future. It has caused unbearable suffering both to the nationalist community and the unionist community.
Now is the time, and now is the chance, for them to end violence permanently, and to commit themselves unambiguously to the democratic process.Reuse content