Good intentions have been marred by these flawed and unbalanced proposals

Share

One must take a deep breath when looking at events in Northern Ireland today.

One must take a deep breath when looking at events in Northern Ireland today. A very deep breath. So much has gone wrong, so many hopes have been raised, only to be dashed on the rocks of intolerance and despair. The resignation of David Trimble as First Minister is a reminder of just how bad things have become. The proposals announced by the British and Irish governments yesterday to keep the peace process alive are undoubtedly flawed; it could scarcely have been otherwise. But the intentions were good – and less naive than they might at first glance seem.

Three years ago, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, hurrahs were heard on both sides of the Irish Sea – although much louder, it must be said, in Britain than in bomb-weary Northern Ireland itself. Scepticism within the province ran deep, even if the mainland persuaded itself that everybody would live happily ever after.

In the meantime, the balance of disbelief has been redressed. On the mainland, the pessimism is greater than before. In Northern Ireland, by contrast, despite the ongoing crises and the inbred pessimism, there is a sense of half-surprise that things have turned out less badly than many expected.

A glance at the statistics makes the picture clear. In the past three years, an average of 12 people a year have died. To take the standard political mantra, that is 12 people too many. It is, however, three times fewer than in previous years, and more than seven times fewer than the 90-odd who died annually at the beginning of the 1990s.

The paramilitaries – loyalist and republican alike – continue to mete out their own thuggish version of street justice and vendettas. Ulster is, however, a less dangerous place. There is plenty of room for pessimism. But those death statistics are the ultimate proof that the peace process has, in the broadest sense, been worthwhile. No amount of bluster can get past that truth.

Yesterday's proposals must be seen in that context. In the short term, the nationalists have gained much more than the loyalists. The dismantling of military installations and observation points – especially in the traditional IRA stronghold of south Armagh – is an obvious concession. So, too, is the decision to end the use of plastic bullets. The ruling that terrorists on the run will no longer be pursued is a concession which appears morally indefensible, although its longer-term benefits (stability, stability, and more stability) should be clear to all.

We have heard talk from the IRA of how they are ready to put their weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use". In practice, that commitment has been hedged about with so many ifs and buts that it has seemed to belong in the unlikely land of Godot. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein continue to drone on about decommissioning just around the corner. But we finally need to see some actions instead of empty words. At no point have they acknowledged the need to give the Protestants breathing space. It is regrettable that yesterday's proposals, intended to prevent the peace process from breaking down altogether, do not give the Unionists more substantial concessions, given the terrible rawness felt by many Protestants today.

John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is right, however, to argue that it would be a tragedy if the parties were to reject this package. The deadline of midnight on 11 August is in some respects a fake deadline – intended, above all, to concentrate minds. But it is also real. With luck, today's 12-a-year death statistics will come to seem past history, just as the 90-a-year death cull is today. Pessimism is everywhere. But hope has not yet died.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen