MARCHING TO ANCIENT DRUMS

 

The Apprentice Boys in Belfast yesterday and Mr Gerry Adams in Derry on Sunday were marching to the same old tunes that have given this island 25 years of bitterness and killing. Taken together, they underline how two old and proud traditions, each with its own distinctive contribution to make to the common good, have been hi jacked by petty mindedness and bigotry. The events of the past two days have been a mirror image of failure to make the changes necessary to allow politics to take over from old fashioned bloody mindedness.

To hear a middle aged man in a purple sash talking about "God given rights" that consist of provoking, rather than loving, his neighbour; to hear the old self serving talk of nationalist consensus from a leader who will accept nobody's agenda but his own, is to realise how blinkered large areas of political life still are. What happened yesterday in the Ormeau Road was totally condemnable. The unhappy thing is that Mr Adams and the other leaders of Sinn Fein are not in a position to join in the condemnation because at another time and in another place they will be regretfully explaining the reasons that have brought their own supporters out into the streets to seek confrontation. There is a pattern in these matters that must be broken before any real political progress can be expected.

But there acre other considerations, equally serious. Yesterday's violence and stand off in the Ormeau Road come right at the start of the traditional marching season. There was some speculation that tension was deliberately heightened according to a previously arranged plan, and Mr Gary McMichael, one of the leaders of the Ulster Democratic Party, spoke of the risk that "elements" - presumably loyalist paramilitary elements would be drawn into the confrontation. Any of the coat trailing marches from now to the end of the summer could provide the spark; and the danger is made immeasurably worse by the refusal of the IRA to reinstate its ceasefire.

It is a pity that Mr Adams, who has a key role to play in bringing the republican voice to the negotiating table, seems to be prepared to fritter away the standing he had acquired both in the United States and here with a succession of negativistic statements. A central point in Sinn Fein's peace strategy was the creation of a nationalist consensus, including both the SDLP and the Dublin Government. This has failed to materialise because the Sinn Fein strategy also set out to write the agenda and devise the discourse procedures. The peace strategy was nothing more than a way of giving Sinn Fein leverage to compensate for its small electoral support.

Mr Bruton was right to point out that an Irish democratic consensus exists, and it is one that rejects the IRA's violence and recognises the consent principle in, looking, for a permanent political settlement. The glib repetition of the word consensus masks the unreality of Mr Adams's political demand, which amounts to asking for a wholesale adoption of policies which have never had support at the ballotbox. Such an approach really would raise questions about Mr Bruton's leadership.