How I pray to be wrong about Ireland

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The Independent Online
IT WAS impossible not to be profoundly moved by the women of Ireland gathered in Dublin. I confess I wept at Susan McHugh's inspiring words of dissociation from the IRA and all its evil works - 'not in my name, not in the name of Ireland'. I cheered, too, Roberta Corbridge's arrival, like Blucher's at Waterloo, from Bangor, Co Down: 'Susan asked me to come down and here I am]' Well done]

For a moment, carried away, I forgot how in Ulster it sadly was and is and, I suppose, will be. How I pray to be wrong, as I probably will be one day.

Meanwhile, another grim succession of events unfolds: the victims more than usually innocent - women and/or children; an overwhelming wave of revulsion; impassioned words far more beautiful than the terrible beauty born to the poet Yeats; then a slow relapse into dull numbness, into a sub-normal normality in which the killing of policemen, of soldiers and public servants, as of killers killed in their turn, hardly rates more than a paragraph in the papers.

It is cruel but salutary to examine with some care what is said by the Irish women and their friends. You will find goodness and courage beyond praise, but also - with sadness - faint, innocent-seeming and well-intended traces of the poisons that course through Ireland's veins.

Yes, I admit, we Brits have poisons of our own, generating in our case callous indifference and weakness. You will find also in the Irish ladies and their associates wisps of those beguiling illusions that render the Ulster problem apparently so insoluble.

'What have those violent actions achieved?' cries Mrs McHugh herself. She gets her expected answer - a deafening roar of 'Nothing'. What, nothing? Nothing achieved by IRA terror?

Nothing: not even an all- pervading fear and anger? Not even communities driven ever further apart? Not even the disbandment of the B Specials and the destruction of Stormont - that is to say, the dispersal of persons who, whatever their faults, were actually ready and willing to govern Ulster and keep order there, tasks for which we Brits seem manifestly unsuited?

What, nothing achieved - not even the disruption and vandalising of our cities, on the mainland as in Ulster? Not even the introduction of a grim state of siege into our parliamentary institutions, once so free and easy?

Nothing: not even numberless fatuous 'initiatives', all designed to find 'a political solution' which, between irreconcilables, cannot exist? Not even talks endlessly revived and protracted, serving only to postpone or avoid that 'security solution' which is all we can hope for and which alone might dish the IRA?

Not even an Anglo-Irish Agreement which demoralises and frightens the Ulster Unionists by undermining assurances given to them that Ulster will never be absorbed in the Republic without their consent, and thus breeding terror and counter-terror?

Nothing achieved? Not even - most sinister of all - a wavering state of opinion here, in which the majority of British mainlanders want to negotiate a 'settlement' (ie, surrender) directly with the IRA to push Ulster out of the UK?

Achieved nothing? Did ever, since perhaps Henlein's Sudeten Germans, such a small, repulsive gang achieve so much?

'There has got to be another way,' proclaims the saintly Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was murdered on Remembrance Day at Enniskillen. 'A better way.' Noting what the bomb and bullet have so far achieved, the IRA may well wonder whether there is another, a better, way of achieving its end, the subjection of a hostile Ulster majority to a hateful minority tyranny. Not easy, this, without the help of the British government - this, too, only to be won, if at all, by weariness and fear.

And all this, mark well, has been achieved by criminals who are continuously denounced as 'mindless'. Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, has ridiculed this charge, itself mindless. He notes with horrified respect the IRA's 'calculated strategy', hitherto so successful.

Mr Spring's views here seem sensible, I agree. Yet a man may carefully plan to rob a shop and murder its keeper. All his moves are coldly and rationally calculated to that end. We may call him sane, if wicked. But if his only real purpose is to steal a pair of shoelaces or box of matches we may still surely call him mad, may we not?

The eventual objectives of the IRA in Ireland are so nebulous, fantastic and impossible, so pregnant with unending horror, as to justify hardly a cowpat thrown through a policeman's window. The IRA's grievances are by now so relatively trivial, so readily corrigible, as to justify the death not of one child, let alone of thousands. Isn't disproportion a mark of madness?

Sensible or not, Mr Spring soon retreats into illusions of his own - more talks, now more urgent than ever - a sentiment from which the IRA would not privately disagree. Nor would it deplore Mr Spring's intention to proceed always within the law, which it is in his view the IRA's purpose to subvert. To subvert? It will subvert not those parts of it that tie Mr Spring's hands or those of Sir Patrick Mayhew, only those that tie its own hands.

An Irish-born lady, Paula Sharkey, exploding in the Independent, pours her rage and shame over the Irish killers who so misrepresent her. I applaud, till the last sentence, which urges us all to turn our attention now to 'what really counts', including peace and 'real justice'. Oh dear]

Peace of a sort, perhaps, we might achieve - say, by internment of the IRA godfathers. This course is repeatedly urged by Conor Cruise O'Brien, who has been right about Ulster for a long and lonely time. But 'real justice'? Rather a tall order? One man's real justice is another's real injustice.

The trouble in Ulster in large part springs from conflicting and incompatible ideas of 'real justice'. It is idle to look into this disagreement for a solution rather than a cause of further strife.

Ponder Goethe's wise words that disorder is worse than injustice. Disorder is indeed generalised and universal injustice hurts at random here, there and everywhere, so that no one is safe.

British governments have indeed grievously sinned against Catholics as well as loyalists in Ulster. This they have done not by repressing disorder too harshly or too unevenhandedly, with too much discrimination or too little. No, our real sin has been to allow wicked disorder on this scale to go on for so long.

Stop this, by internment or other means, and some sort of peace, some sort of justice may ensue. Not 'real' peace or justice, perhaps, but enough to bring a sigh of relief from those who for 30 years have been denied both. Starving people cannot be gourmets.