Time to call a halt to gloomy procession of peace processors
Opinion:On Tuesday of this week I took part in a debate in Belfast’s City Hall on whether we in Northern Ireland should continue to commemorate the past.
Earlier the same day I had stood at the City Hall’s front gates at a rally to the memory of David Black, a citizen of ours murdered last week by the latest version of the IRA.
The two things combined have led me to one conclusion. It is time to declare an end to the peace process.
I do not mean by this that it is time to give in to the “men of violence”, still less do I mean I want to see a return to the “dark days”.
I mean simply that the term itself has got to go.
I say the events of this week led me to this conclusion, but it would be more accurate to say they led me back. It has occurred to me before that the process is part of what continues to ail us. It says we are not there yet, but it leaves the decision of where “there” is to the professional processors. It is not in my gift. It is not in yours. We are left to hope that where the processors tell us we should be and where we would like to be coincide.
Worse, looking in the other direction, the process has a way of folding into itself historical events that seem to fly in the face of its own logic.
That is how we came by such oxymoronic phrases as “fighting for peace”. Who knew that that’s what all those killings in the last third of the 20th century were for?
Previously, though, I had wondered how we could be persuaded to relinquish something that in its early years served us well, and continues to serve the processors, not least on the international stage.
And then yesterday I thought there would need to be an event to bring the curtain down. A big event – an enormous event: a peace procession, no less.
Not a march for peace, but a march in confirmation of peace. Because dissidents will not be processed away.
There has always been a strand of Irish republicanism that is resistant to political good practice and example. The process indeed plays into the mouths of those who would claim there is unfinished business here.
Like the Copts choosing a pope, the choice of where to start the peace procession would be effected by a blindfolded child, only instead of drawing a name from a barrel he or she would stick a pin in a map: there.
Everyone who lived there would be invited to join in, to walk or otherwise convey themselves at walking pace as far as they felt able.
The procession would go down every road, in and out of every street. And at any point along the way anyone who wanted to could call a halt and bear witness to what happened in that spot. To what they saw, what they suffered, what they knew, what they did.
And then the procession would move on down the next road and in and out of the next street, until all the stories that were there to be told were told.
That would be our legacy. A map of words.
It would take a long time, but not anything like as long as the current peace process and it would, one day, conclude.
Instead of political process we would have politics, instead of peace process we would have tomorrow, and the day after than again.
And no one could ever again claim when levelling a gun or leaving a bomb to be finishing business that we had all agreed was unfinished.
Let’s start the end here.
GLENN PATTERSON’s latest novel The Mill for Grinding Old People Young was the 2012 One City One Book choice for Belfast.