We Say: Process is not a one-way street

It’s doubtful whether the Rubber Man of comic book fame himself could deliver enough to mollify Ulster Unionists who have become increasingly angsty and nervous as the election date nears.

Certainly, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness pulled off another coup on Tuesday when they stretched the republican constituency to lengths once unimaginable and all in the name of making peace with “our unionist neighbours”.

Blameless and innocent (forget Bombay Street, Castlereagh torture, state collusion between the farces of law and order and loyalist gun-gangs, shoot-to-kill etc etc), the unionists believe that the peace process is all about making republicans and nationalists accept that they were wrong to reject the squalid Six County statelet.

Republicans and nationalists on the other hand are far from contrite about their part in rising up against British misrule. Far from it, they’re proud of the part they played in the war: That’s why former republican prisoners are genuinely accorded VIP status in nationalist neighbourhoods. Like the Free French or the freedom fighters of the ANC, they are seen as the cream of society by a community which had been battered for daring to raise such modest demands as one-man-one-vote.

But never was the status of republicans in the eye of the man and woman on the Falls Road black taxi ever higher than when the IRA sued for peace. After all, making peace with your enemies is always more difficult than making war.

When the IRA then decided to take the role of peacemaker ever further and decommission some of its vast storehouse of weaponry which had been smuggled into this country and hidden by thousands of supporters — despite threat of imprisonment and even death — once again the stock of the republican movement soared.

In fact, the cornerstone of the recent success of Sinn Féin has been its willingness to give ground in order to take ground.

For that reason, nationalists on Tuesday were willing to look on the bright side of another generous statement by Gerry Adams and a groundbreaking act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA.

However, there was a deepseated fear that the cookie monster negotiatiors of the UUP wouldn’t give the gesture a fair wind.

And so it proved. Did David Trimble lose his nerve or did he really expect a fuller statement from the Decommissioning Body? A little bit of both perhaps.
The key to win-win negotiations is that there should be no surprises.

Unionists certainly looked surprised at the lack of an inventory after the latest decommissioning event. But perhaps they had also been unnerved by the withering fire from early morning by their own dissident MPs, led by Jeffrey Donaldson.

With one ear cocked for his shrill denunciations, they didn’t hear the crucial statements by De Chastelain — albeit delivered in a roundabout way. But if they had been paying full attention, they would have heard the good general give more detail than ever before about the nature and quantity of arms and munitions put beyond use. The IRA by going further than ever before were clearly sending out a message to unionists that they will play their part in bringing war to a close. The quid pro quo for that move was movement from the two governments on nationalist demands. That movement should take place immediately.

Still, the peacemakers have emerged with their reputation enhanced despite Tuesday’s debacle. Sinn Féin can go to the electorate in the knowledge that they have tried again to square the most difficult of peace process circles. If the UUP don’t feel as confident about facing the electorate they have only themselves to blame.

Expect a no-holds-barred election campaign but when the dust settles, no matter who emerges triumphant, let all the parties get down again to the task of making peace with unionists. And let’s not lose sight of how far we’ve come. Ten years ago this weekend, we had the horror of the Shankill bomb and the Kennedy Way depot murders. The journey isn’t over yet, but we are making progress. At least, every blow to the peace process in 2003 — unlike 1993 — isn’t accompanied by a bodycount.

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