The power of prayer unlikely to be enough
Legacy of the past may be most difficult hurdle for Haass
But then there’s the past. Most commentary has been rooted in an assumption that the talks will be focused on the legacy of the Troubles, that the issues which arise will mainly concern estimations of the paramilitary campaigns. Did the two young men killed by their own bomb as they set out to blast a target in Castlederg “lay down their lives in the fight for Irish freedom”, as they themselves will have believed and Sinn Féin Assemblyman Barry McElduff explained on Radio Ulster just a few days before last month’s contentious march through the town? Or were they terrorists out to take the lives of their Protestants neighbours, as Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott maintained?
Even in the highly unlikely event of all those seated at the Haass table agreeing on a formula, or even a formula for agreeing to disagree, the issue would be far from resolved.
When did the past begin? 1968? 1921? The old reactionary Tim Healy is said once to have said that the trouble started when Strongbow landed and wouldn’t be over until Cromwell was let out of hell. His was something of an extreme view, but the point he was making stands. How you view the events of the past 40 years depends on your view of what went before.
If the Castlederg volunteers had no legitimacy, then neither did those who gave their lives in the War of Independence. Whether this claim to noble succession is justified – it isn’t – will make no difference to the talks. For Sinn Féin to accept or split the difference with the Unionist view would be to repudiate not just the Provo campaign but the Republican tradition itself. This is not going to happen.
No solution based on reconciling the Orange and the Green will work. Fortunately, there is a swathe of Northern opinion – polls suggest it currently runs at about 30 per cent – that does not adhere to Orangeism or Greenery. Of course, this isn’t reflected in political representation.
Sort that one out and we might be in business.