Ceasefire: The game of two ends may be over: Peace means the Unionists need to talk. Nick Cohen tries to find some who are willing to say more than No

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The Independent Online
TO THE outside world, the biggest paradox of the IRA ceasefire is the pessimism it has caused among the Protestant population, which has suffered so much at the IRA's hands.

Suspected British perfidy is the obvious explanation, but beyond that lies a historical frame of mind, shared by both sides, that says there can be no 'solution' to Northern Ireland until the game is won or lost.

Arthur Aughey, a lecturer in politics at Queen's University in Belfast, has a term for it: 'endism'. According to Dr Aughey, who is a Unionist, endism has obsessed Northern Ireland since the Troubles began, and even before.

'The nationalists saw the end as a united Ireland, although how they were going to get there was never clear and still isn't,' he said last week. 'The Unionists had their own endism: the disaster of cultural destruction by an alien state which would ethnically cleanse the Protestants if we gave it the chance. That is why everything has been interpreted in terms of one side winning or one side losing.'

Evidence for Dr Aughey's diagnosis could certainly be seen last week. Sinn Fein's celebration rallies in west Belfast - which looked bigger on television than they really were - convinced any Unionists who still needed convincing that the ceasefire had put them on the losing side. Republican celebration equals republican victory, republican victory equals Unionist defeat. QED.

That may be the general view among Protestants, but it is not quite the only view, even in a Protestant stronghold such as Belfast's Shankill Road. There, close to the fish and chip shop where nine Protestants died in an explosion last October, lie the heavily protected buildings of the Shankill Historical Society. Inside sits David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party who, as local newspapers put it, 'has an insight into the political thinking' of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Mr Ervine, who is 41, is a passionate man - especially about English failure to understand Ulster loyalism - but he can see possibilities in the ceasefire. 'Those people (loyalist paramilitaries) who say they are prepared to fight and die for their country should also be prepared to wait and think,' he said in a statement published by the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday.

The next day his ally, Hugh Smyth, Lord Mayor of Belfast, added: 'If there is indeed . . . a chance to end the violence, don't let loyalists and Unionists be the ones to close it.'

Other militant loyalists take the opposite view. On Friday the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) claimed responsibility for the murder of John O'Hanlon, a 33-year-old Catholic shot dead near his home in north Belfast the night before, in an apparently random attack less than 24 hours after the ceasefire began.

The main Unionist parties, Mr Paisley's DUP and the Ulster Unionists led by James Molyneaux, are divided between the loud and publicly certain and the cautious and publicly agnostic. The DUP has promised a vigorous campaign against any deal, and, according to spokesman Sammy Wilson, would 'work with any Unionist who does not like the fawning acceptance that Jim Molyneaux has given to the Government's handling of the situation.'

The Ulster Unionists seem prepared to compromise. Senior Unionists say Mr Molyneaux would not want to destroy his relationship with John Major, and Mr Major, in turn, is in no position to throw away Unionist support by doing a deal behind the party's back.

In Mr Molyneaux's guarded reaction, Dr Aughey sees some hope. 'It's an end to endism, if you like,' he said. 'Simply saying no has its limitations. In the past people have talked about the slippery slope and if we give an inch we'll end up at the bottom in a united Ireland. But it is not all or nothing. There are places on the slope where we could live quite happily, particularly if there were peace.'

(Photograph omitted)