An Irishman's Diary


All right, I'm hallucinating, but were not the Mitchell principles the basis for the Northern peace deal? Were they not a vital key in assembling gunman and democrat, thereby ending Northern Ireland's travails? Am I wrong in recollecting that the Mitchell formula made talks/disarmament a twin-track process? Am I foolish in repeating the Mitchell requirement that all participants in the peace process do their utmost to end punishment beatings?

We have had our all-party talks, though they were not all-party, and not everybody talked, but something upon the lines of the long-awaited, much-heralded talks did take place. Good. But what about the guns? What about the Semtex? What about the punishment beatings? What about the Mitchell requirement for simultaneous disarmament? What about the entire formula which was constructed to woo Sinn Fein into domesticity and enable it to cuddle up in bed with the unionists? (What's that sticking in my ribs? Because I'm pretty sure it's not because you're glad to see me.)

Different terms

Yes, I was totally wrong about the possibilities of the Good Friday Agreement, but I was right as well. I repeatedly wrote that Sinn Fein and the Unionists could not come to an agreement, and they did: but they came to an agreement on terms which were quite different from the ones they set out to abide by. They started the Stormont game playing baseball and finished according to the rules of Turkish wrestling.

Does it matter that the participants changed the rules as the game went along? Isn't the only issue the achievement of peace? The answer to both questions is "yes". The third question is this: Is peace achievable on the false premises which have been the basis for this agreement? Are we not simply deferring the tears while we avert our eyes from both the patent falsehoods which made the Good Friday deal possible and the violations of it ever since?

The most constitutionally reprehensible of these has been by the Ulster Unionist Party, which has either voted against or abstained on the House of Commons vote to implement the agreement to which that party had given its full consent. This suggests a moral and political frivolity which if sustained would not merely make the Unionists a laughing stock but would actually render them politically valueless. There might not be a great deal to say for the Democratic Unionist and the UK Unionists - but at least we know where they stand. Has anybody the least idea where the Unionists stand now? And in their condition of manly tentativeness and querulous obstinacy, are they capable of delivering anything politically?

Stand-off in Portadown

Amazingly, the position of the Ulster Unionists could by this time have been far worse: they were rescued from the logical consequences of their attitude towards Drumcree by the appalling deaths of the Quinn boys. Had those dreadful killings not occurred, we would almost certainly have seen a terrible stand-off in Portadown in which the newly elected First Minister of Northern Ireland would have been spectacularly visible in public opposition to the rule of law: and the Olympian scale of the frivolity there is simply breath-taking.

No doubt David Trimble wasn't thinking very clearly, what with the July fevers upon him and the long, long hangover from the binge-talkathon at Stormont. He probably wakes up in the middle of the night, rubs his eyes and mumbles: "My God, what have I done?" For what he has done is to enter an accord with a still armed Sinn Fein-IRA, a still armed UDA/UVF, and a still armed UVF/Red Hand Commandos; and now, nearly four months after the Stormont talks, not even a Brown Bess has been handed in, with the only Semtex recovered being in bombs which have failed to go off.

Yes, bombs which failed to go off. Because, though I'm right to eat humble pie with regard to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who I now realise genuinely wanted to end the war, and showed great courage and skill in bringing so much of their movement with them, I was right to be sceptical overall: for this is not about personalities. The Cause has always been a Holy Grail beside which the characters of Galahad or Lancelot were irrelevant. Sinn Fein-IRA is a historical movement which can only be partly diverted from the pursuit of that Grail.

IRA offshoots

The McAdams nexus has lost virtually the entire IRA in the Republic, and off-shoot streams from the IRA - Continuity, Real and INLA - are regathering in the northern river-bed from which the McAdams waters have been diverted. Meanwhile Semtex leaches from one organisation to another, and even in the "peaceful" dispensation of Sinn Fein Nua, violence continues. The IRA - shall we now call it the Official IRA? - shot more people in June than in any month since its ceasefire, and recently it killed one man: so what does that term ceasefire actually mean?

What it means, of course, is that IRA prisoners are released from our jails without proper quid pro quo. It means that mastery over certain cantons in the North remains paramilitary, beyond the rule of law and politics. It means that new groups gather in the shadows and fresh faced youngsters learn the alchemy of bomb-making. It means, regardless of popular will, that the Good Friday deal is very probably unworkable. So let's hope I am hallucinating.