Gary McKeone: The lesson of the peace process: terror works

Related Topics

On Sunday 28 March 1982, I was finishing an essay on Brian Friel's play, The Freedom Of The City, at home in Derry. It was just after lunch, a bright, brisk day. The play is based on the events of another Sunday – Bloody Sunday – which also took place in Derry in 1972 when 13 civil rights marchers were shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment. I was a child then but I remember my father saying to a friend as they left morning Mass that there would be a few sore heads by night-time. While I lingered over my essay, word came through that Norman Duddy, a neighbour of ours, had been shot dead coming out of Strand Road Presbyterian Church. He had just got in to his car when two IRA men on a motorcycle drew up and began firing. His two young sons, Mark and David, were in the car at the time.

Ironically, the Duddy family had recently moved out of our neighbourhood and crossed to the east bank of Derry's River Foyle for security reasons. But their place of worship was on the west bank, the time of service fixed and his commitment to his church strong. Norman Duddy was a policeman.

In a single afternoon, politics and theatre, public and private life were brought into stark and terrible relief. Nearly everybody living in that part of the world at that time has a story to tell but I hadn't thought of that particular March Sunday until the recent flurry of commemoration around the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The anniversary is, of course, just cause for reflective celebration; there are people alive today who would be lying with the silent dead had the British, Irish and US governments failed to cajole, court and coerce Northern Ireland's political parties into signing up to peace.

Yet, as the various memoirs reach the bookshelves and the commemorative television programmes fill the schedules, it is worth resisting the tide of self-congratulation to ask exactly what has been achieved now that "hope and history" appear finally to have rhymed.

"Belfast is booming" can be written without irony; investment is increasing. The watch towers have gone; the body count is no more. The "Chuckle Brothers"– Dr Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness – a latter-day, if somewhat sinister, Morecambe and Wise, preside over a devolved assembly at Stormont. Tourism is a genuine proposition once again. Streets once infamous as murder spots are now up there with the Giant's Causeway as must-sees on a kind of gruesome, far-beyond-irony, bus tour. So what's to complain about?

Surely any agreement worth the name has to offer future generations the prospect of a transformed society, somewhere that has not just learned its lesson but acted upon it. It has to be much more than a photo-opportunity for politicians. It has to be about much more than putting away guns.

What the Good Friday Agreement has certainly achieved is the near-annihilation of what used to be called constitutional political parties. The SDLP and Ulster Unionists are in the wilderness because violence has been seen to pay.

Perhaps the most telling moment in Jonathan Powell's recent memoir and accompanying BBC2 promotional love-in, comes when Seamus Mallon of the SDLP quotes the "Undercover Diplomat" as saying of Mallon's party that "the problem with you guys is that you don't have guns". At a stroke, the whole ethos of constitutional politics turned to dust. It wasn't the SDLP that had mortared Downing Street. It wasn't David Trimble who marched his men up the hill and marched them back down again. So if you want to get ahead, get a gun.

We should bear this in mind when the deals are done, as they inevitably will be done, with terrorist organisations across the globe. Terror works. Nothing like it to focus the mind. Shoot them coming out of churches; bomb them in restaurants; play trick or treat with a machine-gun in a pub. Stick at it long enough and the next thing you know, you're taking a brief from a civil servant and climbing into a chauffeur-driven car. And wasn't it worth it all? Say no more about the 32-county socialist republic or the never, never, never. That's the past. Now, who will we send to St Patrick's Day at the White House this year?

In the meantime, Northern Ireland remains a segregated society. We choose to educate our children in separate faith schools; we live and socialise separately, for the most part; we still vote shades of orange, shades of green. It is a land of polite apartheid. Will that encourage future generations to stay? Will that ensure that the brightest and the best put their shoulders to the wheel of civic, political, cultural and economic development? Is the Good Friday Agreement really a model for the future? Was it really that good a Friday?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home