Maybe it’s that people are getting a bit narky waiting for spring to put in an embarrassingly-late appearance, but I’ve just read three articles looking back on the Good Friday Agreement fifteen years ago, and all three say the Agreement was next to useless. They concede that it did bring to an end the near-daily catalogue of death and destruction, but other than that they’re deeply disillusioned.
Why? Because, they say, when they signed Yes they had to swallow hard over such things as the release of prisoners and the positioning of ‘terrorists’ in government. As Mary McAleese might say, “Wow!”. Where in the use of that term is there any concession to the fact that these ‘terrorists’ believed, like so many Irishmen and women before them, that Britain had no right to administer its rule in Ireland and that violence was the only option available? If you can’t see that perspective on the Troubles, as well as your own, maybe you shouldn’t be writing about the subject. As to ‘terrorists in government’ - gimme a break. Africa, United States, South America, south of Ireland: again and again history presents us with examples of people who were considered ‘terrorists’ but when negotiations had been completed, were voted into government. Anyone who’s shocked/saddened to see Martin McGuinness or Gerry Kelly or others like them in government has a mental vacuum where historical knowledge should reside.
The other disillusionment much penned nowadays is that we have a sectarian stalemate in Stormont, with Sinn Féin in particular totally uninterested in making Northern Ireland a better place. How they know republican motivation I’m not sure. But if you try to guess at it through observing republican actions, you’d surely draw a different conclusion. In fact you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice that Sinn Féin have repeatedly made overtures of reconciliation towards unionism, overtures which have been received sometimes deadpan, sometimes frostily and as often as not with contempt. The fact is, this talk of tit-for-tat, sectarian gridlock because of the two big parties doesn’t add up. Remember when Paisley was First Minister and referred frequently with horse-laugh disdain to his ‘deputy’? And the way in which McGuinness responded with a smile and courtesy towards the other man? And can you imagine Paisley reacting similarly, had the shoe been on the other foot? And have you noticed how McGuinness has repeatedly stood by Robinson, in personal as well as political terms, while receiving little or nothing in return?
I don’t believe the Good Friday Agreement delivered all that it seemed to promise - few things do, as George Mitchell pointed out to us this week. But it has brought peace, it has persuaded republicans to do what other parties and governments were forever urging them to do - seek their goals through political means. And it has moved a considerable degree of control - not all, but a considerable degree - from English hands in Westminster into Irish hands in Stormont. Even if the Agreement hasn't fulfilled every rosy expectation, that in itself is no small achievement.
Now if the DUP could be persuaded to defrost even a little...