Where can we go from here?

We will need to take risks for peace
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The Independent Online
Friday: the shock. For weeks I had been told of the peril that faced the peace, that the IRA believed the British government response to the ceasefire was a military one, aimed at demoralising and dividing republicans. Then, what had seemed inconceivable happened. I heard it first on the TV - a good friend kept distracting me, talking about how the peace could be resurrected, as Jon Snow's words "Canary Wharf" and "bomb" echoed round the room.

Saturday: the aftershock. The despair that a peace process so painfully created could be so recklessly endangered. The anger that the self-determination of the Irish people as to political means could again be so flagrantly disregarded by a self-appointed few. The sense that the end victims of renewed violence might be my constituents and might be republicans and loyalists whom I have grown to admire and whom I consider friends.

Sunday: the reconstruction begins. Based on the compelling judgement that the IRA has fundamentally misread a general frustration with the peace process for a specific demand for a return to war. The common nationalist and republican frustration with the British government and Unionist leaderships confirmed the need not for more war but for more energy, determination and patience.

I am certain republicans in general accept that more war will not bring about, as they see it, more advantage. This was formerly the clinical argument that sustained the IRA. It is not a political argument that is sustainable any longer and this is accepted and acknowledged by most republicans.

Over the next critical days this essential point will have to be made, not in public demonstrations against the IRA but in private conversations and exhortations, filtering back to the republican leadership. This is what happened in the clubs on Saturday night, around the churches yesterday morning and in the community groups this morning. This essential truth must be conveyed to the IRA leadership.

Last November, President Clinton urged all of us to take risks for peace. Now it is more perilous, difficult and uncertain to do so, but it is more essential that we do. The London cabinet meeting following the London bombing will have a resolve to stand firm and be seen to stand firm. It will be less possible emotionally, but perhaps more manageable politically, to design and develop a definitive process to inclusive negotiations.

I have some knowledge of the people of the Falls Road, of their immense dignity and defiance, of their sense of struggle and sense of justice. They are good and decent people and that includes republicans, those with whom I have fundamentally disagreed.

I remain convinced that most republicans do not desire or demand a return to war. Clearly, though, there appear to be some who do desire and demand this, in all likelihood those who disagreed with the timing and method of delivery of the 1994 ceasefire. In order to sustain the argument for a totally unarmed strategy against those dissenters it required, above all else, evidence of a definitive process leading to inclusive negotiations - because republicans understand inclusive negotiations to be the process of Irish self-determination.

As a consequence of the British government's failure to maintain that process, and many failures besides, those republicans who, I believe, neither desire nor demand a return to war have been weakened. Not necessarily irreparably, not necessarily permanently. This is why it is imperative for the Government to design and develop a definitive process leading to inclusive negotiations, consistent with the Downing Street declaration and the principle of consent. This would not be a response to the London bomb but a response to the greater demand for peace on this island.

In a frenzy, many look for opportunities to sustain the peace. If we step back we will find guidance from Arafat and Rabin, Mandela and De Klerk. Amid massacre and mayhem, bombings and boycotts, they maintained the process of dialogue and mastered the art of negotiation. That is what they have taught us and that is what today they tell us. We need to listen to them closely and take risks for peace. Immediately. The writer is SDLP city councillor for West Belfast and a member of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland

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