Monday, 9 March 2009

The Peace Process is still strong in Northern Ireland

Alistair Campbell has a blog post (if it has slipped down the front page by the time you read this it is the post on the 9th of March that I'm referring to.) concerning the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Despite the sad deaths of two servicemen recently, murdered by the extremist Real IRA terrorist organisation, his post is optimistic. He highlights the reactions of the main players, who universally condemned the killings, and argues that despite the tragic loss of two young lives the peace process will not be derailed.

Progress in Northern Ireland was the result of bold leadership, commitment from a lot of different people for often very different reasons, hard work and an attitude that says whatever is thrown at you, you just keep going. These latest murders go down as 'obstacles along the way' but what is clear from the way people have reacted is that the forces of good are continuing to prevail.

One point that I especially appreciated about the article which I have perhaps not thought about recently is the role that this Labour government had in getting us to this point. By continued and determined support of a fair and equitable peace process we have arrived at a situation which is more stable than in 1997 when Tony Blair first took office.

This peace is not just a result of British and Irish efforts, so I think we should also remember the great deal of input and help provided by the USA, especially during the Clinton administration.


  1. I’ve served in the Armed Forces and I have family in Northern Ireland. Campbell’s post is largely rhetoric with no substantive analysis of the issues, as would be expected of a former spin doctor.

    There has undoubtedly been significant change over the last ten years. This is mainly down to the parties in Northern Ireland working together recently, in turn due to the Good Friday Agreement and the eventual decommissioning agreement which resulted in PIRA announcing the end of their campaign. The embryonic peace has been cemented with enormous investment in Belfast and elsewhere, and no-one has any desire to return to the 1970s or 1980s.

    However, there should be grave concern over wider issues which could flare up.

    - The peace is uneasy and requires a longer time frame to take hold. The process in its current form stretches back to the 1980s and will stretch forward over future decades, including the key points of the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, the 1994-1996 PIRA ceasefire, the drafting of the Mitchell Principles, the renewed PIRA ceasefire of 1997 the ongoing negotiations culminating in the undoubted high points of Good Friday agreement of 1998 and PIRA ending its campaign in 2005 and the eventual Northern Ireland Assembly of 2007. The divide goes back centuries and there are legitimate historical grievances on all sides. There remains ongoing tension and there has been an escalating number of security alerts and bomb attacks recently, as the dissident threat has not been taken as seriously as it should have been despite Army and Security Service warnings and the raft of anti-terrorism legislation now on the statute book. The point is this: PIRA declared a ceasefire as far back as 1994 which ended in 1996 and it has been a convoluted process to get where we are. This process has not ended and there is every danger that it could flare up again, despite the overwhelming desire for peace which should lead eventually to some reconciliation in future generations. I believe the achievements of recent years have been neglected and the perception on the UK mainland is somewhat different from the reality in Northern Ireland. This is a wake-up call with tragic consequences.
    - There have been some gross errors along the way, even acknowledging the difficulties of bridging two conflicting communities and traditions. Most recent was the ridiculous proposal to pay blanket compensation to the families of “victims” including security forces personnel and terrorists. This shows a complete misunderstanding of attitudes – terrorists are seen as fallen “volunteers” rather than “victims” by their own side (a tradition that needs to be tolerated even if offensive) and this cack-handed gesture insulted everyone – even them.
    - The Sinn Fein comment was late and lukewarm. There is a tradition of reading between the lines in studying what the Republican movement says, and this statement indicates there is clearly no support or sympathy for this terrorist attack – that is not in doubt. Also, it is true that Sinn Fein need to tread carefully to avoid alienating wider Republican sentiment as the history of Irish republicanism is one of split after split, usually favouring extremism rather than moderation. However, this is not the 1990s. Sinn Fein are in the Assembly. The overriding concerns should be to neutralise dissident republicans (physically and politically) and to prevent escalation. A key risk of escalation is the potential Loyalist backlash and a wave of tit-for-tat killings and Sinn Fein need to be clear in their condemnation of this attack and to give no opportunity for Loyalists to exploit any perceived reluctance to indulge in their own twisted and psychopathic violence.
    - This is the action of a small group, but an unscrupulous and vicious group capable of causing great damage and death – as in Omagh in 1998. The same mindset exists in other factions and is summed up by the comment that the pizza delivery men were “collaborators”. Pathetic and vicious beyond belief, the mindset of garden shed and farmyard barn bomb-making idiots, but very dangerous idiots whose mindset exists in sections of the Loyalist community as well.

    In short, despite the fact that the dynamic is away from violence, the peace process is not something that can be taken for granted by the UK government or the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is too serious to be treated as “didn’t we all do well”, despite the undoubted achievement of the Good Friday agreement, and there is a danger that attention has slipped away in recent years. Forget Obama in Downing Street, he should be pressing the flesh in Stormont.

  2. Thanks for commenting, you made some very interesting points.

    I can't really say much about the situation since I don't have a great knowledge of it. I certainly agree that we shouldn't allow the achievements of the past slip away through inattention.

    I think Obama going to Stormont would be fantastic, the Americans certainly seemed to do well as mediators last time, and I'd like to see the US acting as peace maker rather than the war mongering of the last 8 years.