Leading Article: Impatient for peace

Share
Related Topics
IT IS FAR too early to hand out prizes for good political behaviour in Northern Ireland. This is a crucial moment in the peace process, and it could still be broken by the steady drip of sectarian murder, or by a single great explosion in the heart of an English city. But it is not too early to give encouragement to a small group of British politicians who have brought a settlement closer than at any time since partition in 1922. In the proper spirit of pluralism, we start with John Major, for breaking with the Conservative Party's traditional unionism by making it clear that the UK has no selfish strategic or economic interest in staying in Northern Ireland. Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam - an accessible and tireless politician who has proved an inspired appointment - have taken risks and broken rules, by waiving the requirement that the IRA should decommission its arms before Sinn Fein joined the talks; by agreeing that Dr Mowlam should talk face-to-face with loyalist prisoners in the Maze; and by receiving Gerry Adams at Downing Street. Last week the Prime Minister attacked another taboo by agreeing to a judicial inquiry into Bloody Sunday in Londonderry. Most unionists will see no reason to re- examine an episode that left such deep scars on community relations. But that is the point. The myths, as well as the realities, of what happened on that terrible day have been bound up inextricably with the events in the next quarter of a century. It will be hard to disinter the truth. Uncertainty will never be dispelled. But the inquiry cannot fail to unravel some real truths from the propaganda from each side. Objective facts are seldom more dangerous than myths.

The urgency the Government feels about the peace process justifies all these breaches of the copybook of Direct Rule. We admire Mr Blair's impatience for a settlement within months, not years. He understands the infinite capacity of the negotiating process to prolong itself. May is the deadline, so the next four months present an exceptional challenge - for the circumstances may not be repeated for a long time. And the challenge requires exceptional methods. In that spirit, we would urge the prompt return to the negotiating table of the UDP, despite its paramilitary links. If they are to be part of the settlement, they ought to be present at the talks. They are not the only people present with blood on their hands.

There is only one broad pattern of settlement under discussion: an internal assembly, cross-border institutions dealing with issues of common interest, and something like a Council of the Isles to guarantee that new arrangements are fair to both traditions. There is plenty of room for disagreement here, but unionists ought to bear in mind the Dublin government's readiness to ask the people of the Republic to renounce the constitutional claim to sovereignty over the North, and to accept the principle that the consent of a majority of Ulster men and women will be the prerequisite for any change in their status. David Trimble has shown courage by remaining in the talks despite the extremist opposition of Ian Paisley. He may contemplate becoming the First Minister of a less violent and more harmonious Northern Ireland which would remain within the UK, for the duration of his lifetime at least. Sinn Fein ought to recognise the logic of its own search for a political instead of a military solution. Twenty-five years of war have brought a United Ireland not a jot closer. Moreover, the chance of a settlement favourable to the nationalists has never been better. The parties in power in London, Dublin and Washington DC, have been traditionally in sympathy with their cause, but they will have to give as well as take. The Prime Minister may be impatient for success, but he harbours no romantic notions about the IRA. Republicans are still a minority within a minority in Northern Ireland, and while they may be able to kid a few gullible Congressmen in Washington that, like the PLO or the ANC, they speak for a disenfranchised majority in an oppressive regime, they cannot kid the British people. None the less, we think the Prime Minister is right to make the assumption that all the parties to the talks, including the loyalist paramilitaries and Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, are working towards a settlement. But that assumption can be sustained only if it brings results. The window of opportunity is open, but Tony Blair is capable of closing again in the early summer. Were that to happen, Northern Ireland may have to be left to its own devices.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence