Thursday 12 December 2019

Peace process needs constant attention or we'll very quickly be back to the bad old days

Gerry Adams at a press conference on his release. Reuters
Gerry Adams at a press conference on his release. Reuters

Eamon Delaney

Now that the dust has settled on the Gerry Adams arrest and a file is being prepared for the Northern DPP, it is worth standing back and reflecting on a bigger aspect of the case. And this is the dangerous disengagement of the Irish Government – and British government – from the Northern Ireland situation.

It took until yesterday for the Government, through Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, to issue a proper statement calling for calm and for both sides to stand back. Up until then, we had doorstep remarks and media sound-bites, including from the Taoiseach, but these seemed to be more about criticising Sinn Fein than shoring up the always fragile process and showing statesmanship.

This is understandable. Sinn Fein is riding high in the polls, and the fact that Adams' denials seemed to have caught up with him was too good an opportunity to miss for all of our political establishment.

Let them stew in it, was the attitude. And so the SF claims of bias and 'dark forces' were ridiculed.

But there is more than Sinn Fein who question the selectivity and timing of Adams' arrest when so many other northern atrocities go unresolved.

It occurred in the very week when an inquiry was ruled out for the Ballymurphy killings by British troops in 1971, just as it was for the Pat Finucane murder.

Meanwhile, the British continue to withhold files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. You don't have to be a raging Republican to raise these matters. In fact, it's the job of the Irish Government, and our officials, and not just the remit of Sinn Fein. Or at least it used to be, but this Government seems to be treating Northern Ireland as 'sorted' and irrelevant.

Thus it was Martin Mansergh, Fianna Fail's former adviser on the North, who raised the selectivity of Adams' arrest yesterday, and the motives of those behind it, just as he questioned this backed-off role of the Irish Government.

It is the same Dublin disengagement that FF leader Micheal Martin has repeatedly warned against. Martin speaks from experience, having been a minister dealing with the actual peace process (which none of the current Cabinet has) and he knows that any such project needs constant energy and minding and cannot be allowed to just wither on the vine of tribal bickering.

The gunshot marriage of SF and the DUP will go nowhere unless there is constant prodding by the two governments acting as guarantors, which is what they are.

But instead, they have 'outsourced' the process to the Americans and to Richard Haass, who, despite heroic efforts, has failed to get agreement on the crucial and potentially explosive issues holding the process back, which are flags, parades and dealing with past atrocities like the McConville killing. The Haass process was the first time since the early 1990s that our Government was not directly involved in talks on a northern settlement, which is extraordinary given the huge amount of time and energy that we have invested in the process.

Martin was accused by some FG members of being green and 'tribal' by attacking the Government's detachment from the North. But this was to entirely miss the point, perhaps willfully. In fact, Martin was doing a public duty in his criticism, and one that transcends party politics.

The situation in the North is as tense and bitter as ever and the Irish Government's palpable lack of involvement is not helping things. The British government is even worse in its indifference, with David Cameron cold and almost hostile to the whole process and Sinn Fein's involvement.

Of course, in fairness, the Dublin indifference reflects a public apathy to the North, especially as we deal with our economic woes.

Nobody wants a full-on engagement like there used to be. God knows, many of us are (dare we say it) bored with talk of the North and the problematic Troubles' 'legacy'.

But disengaging in the way that our Government has only creates a situation where the fragile peace could unravel very quickly and events such as the Adams arrest can happen and create huge instability. And that is instability for us, too.

Such an engagement will also require the Government, and the main political parties, to put aside their antagonism to SF as a political opponent and treat it with respect, within Northern Ireland, as the representatives of the nationalist tradition and thus also of the ethnic family, of which we, and the Irish Government, are all an integral part.

It's an awkward one. But it has to be done. Martin gets it, and Enda needs to. Otherwise, the whole settlement could quickly unravel and bring us back to street violence, and God knows what else.

Irish Independent

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