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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Peace Process Has Been Saved


David Adams • Irish Times, 4 March 2005

Despite claims to the contrary, the peace process is not dead. If anything, it has been resuscitated, although a lack of proper care and attention over an extended period nearly brought about its demise. We almost sacrificed the entire peace process at the altar of one of its constituent parts: the political process. And we cannot claim that clinging fast to any principled position saved the day.

For the truth is, if a few photographs and a largely meaningless declaration of intent had been forthcoming, the two governments and most of the rest of us (myself included) would have been prepared to elevate the political leadership of what is now being openly described as a "vast criminal conspiracy" to ministerial positions within Northern Ireland.

If things had gone according to plan, the way would then have been clear for the same group of people to direct their attention and substantial resources towards realising, within a few years, their primary goal of infiltrating a sovereign government in the Republic.

No, it was arrogance on the part of the Provisional republican movement itself that saved the process: that and their deep reluctance to do anything which might help to bring about political stability.

Before Christmas they had every reason to believe that they could ignore the requirements of others, allow the negotiations to collapse and walk away, leaving unionists to take the blame.

Or, if backed into a corner, they could have taken up ministerial posts alongside the Democratic Unionist Party and allowed fall-out from the upcoming Northern Bank robbery to inflict enormous damage on the DUP, in much the same way as they betrayed the Ulster Unionists over decommissioning.

Such Machiavellian tactics had always worked in the past. Not this time.

They could easily have side-stepped demands for photographic evidence of weapons being decommissioned, but their refusal to publicly eschew criminality set alarm bells ringing.

All of the previously suppressed doubts about whether the Provisional movement was genuinely committed to purely democratic means began to rise to the surface again. Within a few weeks of that, and by way of the bank heist, self-delusion and reality eventually did collide, with any remaining trust being trampled underfoot as worst suspicions were confirmed.

Everything that has happened since Christmas has served to further illustrate just how close a call liberal democracy has had. Before the Northern Bank raid, facing up to harsh realities had been out of vogue. For a full 10 years critical faculties were suspended while wishful thinking and a dogged determination not to upset the finely tuned sensitivities of former combatants were the order of the day.

Far from suffering any real pressure to change, paramilitaries of every stripe have had egos massaged and been courted by the political establishments of three sovereign nations. That approach caused enormous damage to the peace process. Paramilitaries quickly realised that they could behave virtually as they liked, with little or no sanction.

So that is exactly what they did.

As paramilitary confidence grew, that of the ordinary people ebbed in direct proportion. They kept hearing about a marvellous peace process, but for the life of them, try as they might, they could not see much evidence of it.

Until recently, such was the desire to get political institutions up and running in Northern Ireland that no one bothered to consider whether the peace process itself was in any fit state to bear the weight.

We conveniently ignored a fundamental principle of the peace process: that paramilitary groups had to fall into line with democratic norms before they could be trusted to wield any measure of civic or political power. Instead, we contorted the rules of democracy to accommodate them.

Throughout the more than a decade of ceasefires, all of the paramilitary groups have continued, without interference, to recruit new members. During that time the extent of their criminal activity has been limited solely by the entrepreneurial and imaginative skills at their command, and not by any robust application of the law.

Their stranglehold on local communities has extended to areas previously free from any paramilitary influence. Murder, "punishment" beatings, extortion, racketeering and intimidation have continued unabated.

Yet we ploughed on regardless, as if the more power and respect we afforded them, the more chance there was of paramilitaries changing their ways. It never dawned on us that, if people have shown no signs of changing after a decade of pampering, then it is highly unlikely that they will ever change of their own free will.

It is long past time that the private armies, and all that comes with them, disappeared from the scene. If people are serious, then they have no need of an armed wing. The political strand must remain in cold storage until those who wish to hold political office have clearly demonstrated that they can measure up to the standards that democracy demands.



Reprinted with permission of the author.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

4 March 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Honourary White Man
Marc Kerr

A Blanketman Still Fighting to be Heard
Anthony McIntyre

The Dam Has Burst
Mick Hall

The Peace Process Has Been Saved
David Adams

World's Largest Men's Room
Brian Mór

Green Beer and Bad Singing
Fred A Wilcox

Ireland's Neutrality is Not Threatened
Thomas Lefevre

Sentences of Death: Mary Gordon's Pearl
Seaghán Ó Murchú

24 February 2005

The Socialist Objection and Alternative
Eamonn McCann

Taking the Peace
Jimmy Sands

Life Amongst the Proveau Riche
Brian Mór

A Far Cry from the Hunger Strikers' Sacrifices
Anthony McIntyre

Tragic Legacy
Mick Hall

Some Economic Results of the Civilizing Mission
M. Shahid Alam



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