Maybe what we have here is a case of the Peter Principle? This term refers to the belief that people get promoted in organisations until they reach a position where they’re essentially incompetent and then they stop being promoted. It makes sense. If somebody was such hot bananas, they’d be promoted again.
But none of this can apply to Peter Robinson, because he’s at the top of the DUP tree - there is no higher rung than the powerful one that he occupies. Or is it powerful? There are several reasons for thinking it’s maybe more paralysed than powerful. Just about everyone acknowledges the DUP leader has done a screeching U-turn on this one. Having agreed to a peace centre and denounced all those opposed as fruit-cakes, he’s now decided to follow the fruit-cake lead and denounce the peace centre himself.
He says - or rather his representative on Irish earth at the moment Jeffrey Donaldson says it’s because they the DUP listen to the people AND because Sinn Féin are being insensitive to victims of the conflict, the most recent example being Castlederg.
Right, let’s see if we can break this down to manageable chunks.
- Victims. Yes, you could see that the relatives of people in Castlederg killed by the IRA were upset at the sight of marching men in uniform playing drums and stuff. An understandable reaction.
- Shrine to terrorism. If the centre that was to be built in Long Kesh/the Maze were to be a place which inspired those who visited to go out and blow people up, that would be a bad thing.
- The Long Kesh/Maze development without the shrine to terrorism. Yes, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show has moved its centre there, the site may attract other interested parties without the shrine to terrorism. Jeffrey Robinson is right in that.
But if we examine each of those three ideas more closely, they start to leak.
- Victims. The upset that victims of IRA violence felt at the sight of marching uniformed republicans in Castlederg was genuine. But the victims of British army violence - Bloody Sunday relatives, the Ballymurphy families, the Pat Finucane family, the Rosemary Nelson family - one could go on. All of these people suffered the loss of loved ones either directly at the hands of the British army or through loyalist paramilitaries in collusion with the British armed forces. Yet no one has called for an end to the annual commemoration of British army military actions (no, Virginia, Remembrance Sunday is NOT just about those British soldiers who fought in WW1 and WW2). So if unionist victims have been upset (and they have every right to be - in fact I think the Castlederg parade should never have taken place), then that’s presented as grounds for going back on an agreed deal. If republican victims are upset, well, it’s different because the British armed forces do the killing.
- Shrine to terrorism. What does that mean? Presumably it doesn’t mean a holy place where people will kneel or prostrate themselves before images of dead republicans. In fact there was general agreement that the peace centre would be just that - a centre that told the suffering inflicted by the conflict and done in a way that encouraged people never to go down that blood-soaked path again. The centre hasn’t been built yet. Which means the DUP have reneged on promises because of something that hasn’t yet been constructed and over which they have equal input with republicans. Logical? I think not.
- The Long Kesh/Maze site development without the peace centre. It’s true that some industry will be attracted to the site even if it doesn’t have a centre. But equally if there were a peace centre, it would be a visible reassurance to prospective investors that reconciliation was the name of the game now and that past poisonous hatreds had been mastered. It’d also be a draw for tourists - you just have to drive up the Falls Road to see flocks of tourists studying and photographing the murals relating to the Troubles and a better future. A peace centre at Long Kesh/The Maze would almost certainly exert considerable tourist pull. It couldn’t possibly be the case that statement of the straightforward facts of our Troubles would cast unionism in a poor light, could it? Is it conceivable that that is what is behind the opposition of the Orange Order, the UUP and others?