Leading article: A bright new day in Ireland

Share
Related Topics
THERE were times when it looked as if it might not happen. Could Ulster's Protestants really set aside their doubts and say "Yes"? They harboured many legitimate fears about the future, and these were ruthlessly exploited by Ian Paisley and his gang. But 71.12 per cent is full-hearted support for the Stormont Agreement, and it demonstrates what we should have believed all along - that a large majority of the people of Ireland have shared a desire for peace for some time, and that they would be brave enough to seize the best chance for it they've had for more than three decades. The political significance of this vote is hard to overstate. The peace process has regained its momentum - its Big Mo as they say in the United States. Good for Mo.

The vision, energy and commitment of Tony Blair have been a blessing. Through the months of talks and the weeks of campaigning he has persistently demonstrated an unreasonable amount of optimism and an unusual amount of skill. His only stumble was the temporary release of the Balcombe Street gang and other terrorists. It was so sickening to hear them compared with Nelson Mandela that it gave the opponents of peace their only real break. Mr Blair's lapse of concentration was made up in the subsequent and important assurance that no terrorist would be released unless he renounced violence for good. A good deal of faith has been invested in that promise.

David Trimble has earned himself a place in the history of Ireland. As the leader of mainstream Unionism Mr Trimble could easily have followed precedent and said that Ulster would fight and Ulster would be right. The "Yes" majority is a vindication of his courageous leadership. He will not be alone in noticing that last Friday Ulster also said an emphatic "No" to Paisleyism. The "big man" should spend more time in future reading his Bible.

Northern Ireland's politicians now have the clearest possible mandate to continue working together. This means that the new Assembly must be given a chance to function. The greatest risk of breakdown lies in the role that will be played by Gerry Adams and his colleagues in the government of Northern Ireland. With or without a pact with the SDLP, Sinn Fein are likely to have sufficient support to have a claim on one or two places in the new executive. But unless there are further moves towards IRA decommissioning they must know that the Unionists cannot tolerate this. As the Prime Minister said, there can be no fudge between democracy and terror. The time for the IRA first moves on decommissioning is now - to guarantee a sustainable peace by showing that the days of the gun in Irish politics are over.

Whether Sinn Fein join the executive or not, Mr Trimble will surely be appointed First Minister, with John Hume as a powerful deputy. The leaders of various other parties will join them. This is a grand coalition, and is typical of a period of great political transition. Such a coalition demonstrates how politicians accustomed to war-war can begin to jaw-jaw. Today, power sharing is the only practical politics for Northern Ireland. But this cannot be a permanent arrangement. Although the assembly will have to live with the constant threat of boycott on the part of the Paisleyites, opposition to the new executive is likely to be marginal and ineffective. But there is little point in having democratic arrangements if the possibility of change - one of the vital facets of democracy - is not on the agenda.

In the years ahead, the politicians' task in Northern Ireland is to build on the fragile consensus that now exists on the very constitutional issues that have defined politics in the province since partition. If the border issue is to be laid to rest at last, then the distortions of sectarianism may yet be exorcised from Irish politics. The natural forms and tensions of politics in Western societies, of left and right, progressive and conservative, have hardly taken root in Northern Ireland since the French revolution. If sectarianism is to wither away, the process will inevitably be gradual, but it is the promise for the future. In the Republic vestigial differences in attitude between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are largely historical curiosities. Peace will have finally come to Northern Ireland when the same thing happens there.

It is far too early to see what form a new party structure might take, but it is not too soon to hope that politicians there might begin to think a few more steps ahead. They were granted every encouragement they needed to do so in last Friday's vote. We should now witness the beginning of a new politics for Ireland.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Software Implementation Consultant

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Recruitment Genius: Service Desk Co-ordinator / Client Services Administrator

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Warehouse Assistant

£14807 - £15470 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manufacturer and supplier ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Security Consultant (CREST/CHECK/OSCP)

£45000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Security Consu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
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