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Kickstarting the Peace Process

THE British and Irish governments have met this week to try and kickstart the peace process negotiations again in an effort to get the institutions back up and running.

It is an unenviable task that they face. After the IRA decommissioned last year there was a brief surge of hope that the negotiations could start up again with a specified period.

After all, the IRA had met the criteria established by the decommissioning commission, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had essentially agreed that if that was done negotiations could recommence.

It was not to be of course, and since then we have had several rounds of tiresome twaddle from the DUP as to why they will not agree to negotiations with Sinn Fein. Far from kicking into high gear the process seems stuck in neutral, endlessly idling as time passes on.

The DUP may well be playing a long game, knowing that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, very much the architect from the British side of the peace process, will likely leave power sometime in mid-2007 as he has promised.

The DUP have probably figured that his likely replacement, Gordon Brown, will not be as energized or involved in the process as Blair was. That seems a reasonable assumption, especially as Brown has given very little indication of any real interest in the North.

The DUP will also be awaiting the report of the International Monitoring Commission on paramilitary activity which is expected imminently. They would like nothing more to point at even a scintilla of evidence that the IRA is somehow involved in malfeasance.

Despite the fact that the IRA have decommissioned and that paramilitary violence is at an historically low ebb, the DUP and many peace process critics are hanging on for dear life to any sign, no matter how small, that some activity might still be occurring. It is a vain hope, but nonetheless allows them to continue to vacillate.

It is also a sad reflection on Unionist political thinking that the only policy appears to be a variation on the “Paisley says no” mantra which has dominated their thinking since the outset of the Troubles.

It appears there may be some members of Ian Paisley’s own party who might be prepared to be flexible on issues relating to negotiations, but they are unable to move as long as the old bigot is still in place.

Of course, Sinn Fein could put further pressure on them if they agreed to recommend that Nationalists join the new police force, the PSNI. A recent speech by senior Sinn Fein figure Gerry Kelly made clear that that is a definite possibility, but by the time it happens it may have been devalued by the continued stalemate.

Which is where the governments come in. There is right now no effective lever on the DUP to come to the negotiating table. It is up to the governments to provide one.

Northern Secretary Peter Hain has already stated in couched terms that the endless funding from the British exchequer for Northern Ireland cannot continue indefinitely. So far, however, that seems to have made little impact on the Unionist community well used to partaking of British munificence.

There is really only one way that pressure can be brought for negotiations. It can only be done by implementing those sections of the Good Friday Agreement which make clear that a far wider range of cross-border and joint authority type institutions will be set up if there is a refusal to negotiate.

The two governments have the power to do this under the agreement. It is only if the Paisleys of the world see that the process will move on with or without them, that they will move. The time for such action has arrived.

 

 
 


 
 
 
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