LETTER: Hidden significance of arms decommissioning

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The Independent Online
From Mr N. D. Martin-Clark

Sir: It is perhaps no surprise to anyone that talks between the various parties concerned in Northern Ireland should run into an impasse before they even begin, but it may seem odd that the stumbling block should be the apparently minor issue of arms decommissioning. However, as in relationships between individuals, fundamental disagreements come to a head over small things and part of their resolution lies in teasing out the significance of the apparently trivial.

In this case, the reason for IRA intransigence is that the British Government appears to be pressing not so much for a surrender as for a literal submission, a public mea culpa from the nationalists that will hand them the moral high ground and vindicate their own position throughout the years of the Troubles. The handing over of weapons before a political settlement is tantamount to an admission by the IRA that they were wrong to have taken them up in the first place.

Of course, this is indeed what the British Government thinks; but it is also a telling example of the "nanny state". The British Government is treating grown men and women with whom it has political differences as misguided children who will buckle to parental authority in the end.

However, the norms of civilised society as interpreted by the British are irrelevant to those who do not see themselves as British. Across the globe, bemused members of the Establishment have had to grapple with this bizarre truth but nowhere, it seems, have they found it harder than in their own backyard.

Such patronising attitudes, while apparently benign or merely ridiculous, are as much an exercise in power as any armoured convoy, and their effects can be equally murderous. They are a facade behind which the British establishment seeks to protect itself from the painful acknowledgment of its own bloody role in the history of Ireland. It is in this respect that the British Government has shown itself to be most lacking in humanity, and its consequence can only be the breeding of inhumanity in others.

The growing complacency in this country towards the peace process serves only to encourage this approach and make ever more present the dangers of a split in the republican movement and the resumption of violence.

Yours faithfully,

N. D. Martin-Clark

Crawley, West Sussex

20 December