THE PRACTICE OF PEACE

 

The demonstration of people power in this island yesterday, as well as in Britain, was directed at the killers, actual or potential, whose concept of politics is naked force. The overwhelming majority of people are not fools. In asking for peace they are aware that stopping the violence does not automatically end the deep divisions inherited from the past. They also know that, however long and fraught with difficulty the political process will be, violence will make it longer and more fraught, if not totally ineffective.

But there was another message yesterday in the heartening sight of tens of thousands of men, women and children out in the early spring sunshine. This one was for the politicians. The time is long past when the party and government leaders can afford themselves the luxury of dotting the last i and crossing the last t of their preconditions before they will join negotiations. The spectacle of the wasted months, the posturing, the demands made in the knowledge that they court rejection, have aroused deep disgust in public opinion. Yesterday's rallies, while encouraging the peace makers, ought to warn the peace stragglers as well.

The aphorism that one makes peace with one's enemies, rather than with one's friends, has been much quoted of late. It might usefully be accompanied by a reflection that negotiation requires an ability not merely to express one's own mind but also to think oneself into the mind of one's opponents. The thought is especially provoked by Mr David Trimble's interview on Saturday with RTE's Rodney Rice. In Mr Trimble the Ulster Unionists have a leader who will hold his own in debate with any of the more widely experienced political figures with whom he has to deal. No one who has heard him can have any doubt about that. Mr Trimble is a lawyer, more, he is a law lecturer. And his analysis displays the lawyer's careful, logical, building brick approach of his training. The teacher comes through as well, with a clear, simple style of exposition.

But debating ability and the capacity to create and defend propositions which reflect one's own constituency are not enough in the present circumstances. If Mr Trimble has the capacity to think himself into the minds of those who are not of his own persuasion, he is not making a public virtue of it so far. Whether talks, which could progressively create the confidence he requires, take place at this juncture depends largely on him. Tonight, at Westminster, he has an opportunity to show if he is capable of discerning the wider interest and acting to make it reality.

These are frustrating days. Much work has been done on defining problems, and devising a political strategy that will take account of the suspicions and the genuine fears of each side and their fundamental differences of philosophy. There have been some optimistic signs that a solution is beginning to emerge, based on an amalgamation of proposals. These have been countered by evidence that in spite of the great urgency to re establish a common mind by Dublin and London, serious difficulties remain to be overcome not least, those that Mr Trimble represents.

The Tanaiste, Mr Spring, spoke yesterday in Tralee about the failure of the two governments to reach agreement so far. He pointed out that there was an inbuilt dilemma in the attempt. "We both recognise that it would be fatal to agree to any set of steps or procedures that would unravel in the face of intransigence. And yet we both know that without an agreed way forward, we are staring into an abyss." That, in a nutshell, is where we are at. And yet one wonders whether it was wise of Mr Spring to reveal so clearly and publicly the current state of relations between the governments. It will not help to bridge the differences or cause any dismay to the intransigent.