Sir: David McKittrick's analysis of the Northern Ireland situation ("The stalling of peace", 25 January) rings true; as soon as George Mitchell showed signs of removing one spanner from the works, John Major promptly threw another one in. The question is why?
The most charitable explanation is that he does not have the sensitivity to realise what fears his proposal would arouse. Many thousands of people in Northern Ireland suffered discrimination and worse for many decades under the yoke of the elected Stormont government, with its built-in Unionist majority. A new elected body, even if it is simply a body of negotiators, will almost certainly suffer from the same imbalance, and any attempt to make it more truly representative would lose the support of the Unionists. Hence the predictable republican hostility to the idea.
I suggest that John Major's real reason for this proposal is to create delay. Setting up a new elected body would probably take many months. There is probably a well-tried Foreign Office axiom that the best way to handle a tricky negotiating situation is to protract the discussions until the heat has gone out of the affair, and sheer weariness leads the opposing parties to make concessions.
This would, however, be a very risky strategy in the current volatile situation. The last thing John Major should want is the prospect of fighting a general election against a background of renewed violence in Northern Ireland. Many might perceive the cause of that violence as the present government's stubborn immobility in the face of such broadly-based pressure to move the peace process forward.
25 JanuaryReuse content