Keep your friends close and your enemies closer

Every now and again peace groups and newspapers in "the south" fall in love with a unionist.

They once gave a "Man of the Year" award to Terence O’Neill. And Mr Trimble was hailed as a Great Deliverer of Peace when Dublin and London together helped to nudge the Nobel Peace Prize in his direction.

One of the Paisley people got a column all to herself in a fairly prominent Dublin newspaper, the Irish Times. And the Paisley family were feted on a family edition of RTE’s The Late Show.

Mr Jeffrey Donaldson seems to be the present object of special affection. One always has to ask, are these people specially honoured because of their political and other achievements and merits, or because they are against Sinn Féin? Or against the SDLP? Or against somebody?

It may not really matter because so few of the people so honoured manage to survive politically for long enough to return the compliment.

The forecast about the DUP seems to be coming true; that is, that there are people in the DUP who want power and would be prepared to go some lengths to get it, even to the length of sharing power with republicans and nationalists, provided the position of republicans and nationalists is kept firmly below that of the DUP. Or even of the unionists in general.

It is best to keep "them" out altogether, but if you have to let them in anywhere make sure it is in a secondary – or second-class – position. If they must have power let it be power which can be controlled. And taken away if needs be.

Newspapers and peace groups in "the south" see this as an advance. It is, however, the advance of people who are still determined that power will be strictly limited and able to be taken away at any time. Taking it away is provided for by devices such as hyping up the importance of the IRA, or the need for the IRA to disarm or disband, or disintegrate or disappear. If the DUP found it convenient they would probably change all these words to a simple other word, namely, dissemble; that is, pretend. In certain circumstances it would be enough if the IRA were said to disband, or disappear, or disintegrate or disarm, so that faces can be saved and power can be obtained. Young men – and the few DUP young women – will not refuse power if it can be had at the price of new formulas, new forms of words, new sayings which mean that IRA arms don't matter any more.

When power and money are at stake, you'd be surprised at the arrangements such people can make, and even at the real changes in attitude that can come about, like medieval magicians who knew when there was going to be an eclipse of the moon and told the people they were going to cause it.

People probably knew quite well what they were doing, but social needs told them they should go along with it. The great thing now will be to find a formula for the DUP to get power without losing face and, of course, for the rest of us to make sure we give them no more than they have already.

Giving anything to the DUP is a hazardous business. The only safe way to make any concessions is to have cast-iron guarantees and they have to pay severe penalties if they break them.

Because of one thing you can be absolutely certain – any unionist party really wanting to make an agreement with anyone else still has to bypass the idea deep-rooted in unionist minds that agreements made with "those people" don't have to be kept.

It's a matter of their culture. And there is our biggest problem. We have never in the whole course of the past 80 years found a single example either of unionist ability to keep agreements or their attempts to create the generosity which would make agreements work. There is no evidence at present that their future attitudes will be different. If their attitudes change we should be generous enough to reward them for it. If not, we shall be as wary as experience has taught us to be.

What if, in addition to this lack of integrity, you find two governments in London and Dublin willing to connive at it? Where is the use, then, in making agreements? You know that, as one of those rather notable English playwrights, Shakespeare, put it, "the appetite grows by what it feeds on"; that is, the more you give some people the more they demand. The only way to stop such an appetite destroying us all is to stop giving until they learn how to discipline their greed.

That is going to be where all the ingenuity and integrity and political intelligence of republicans and nationalists is going to be seen come September. How do you make not just agreements, but enforceable agreements, with people whose history is one of refusal and reneging?

In the 1960s we used to have a saying when dealing with such difficult people: "Our real virtue is to be found not in trusting the trustworthy, but in trusting those whom you have reason to believe are untrustworthy".

That requires patience, intelligence and courage. And integrity. Let us hope our friends in "the south" know when to praise such people, but when to stop doing it too.

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