Thursday, April 05, 2007
Blair Deserves Nobel Peace prize for Northern Ireland Progress
Following his recent historic meeting with Gerry Adams Paisley has now met and shaken hands with Bertie Ahern. This was quite an advance on pelting the Taoiseach with snowballs as Paisley did Sean Lamass way back in 1965. I agree wholly with Andrew Rawnsley that this promising state of affairs owes more than anyone else to Tony Blair. He refers to the 'much derided' politicians and how they have used their skills of charm, persuasion and persistence to overcome 'hate and violence.' The troubles in Northern Ireland have formed part of the invariable backdrop to my generation of baby boomers and it is hard to believe it may well be coming to an end. Please God that it is.
That sectarian passions still run deep and bitter is beyond dispute and the fragile settlement may well, even now, haul the province and its long suffering nearly 2 million people back to square one. I know that Paisley had not shaken hands with Adams and in the above picture- reproduced too small for this purpose I fear- we see that while Adams gives an ear to ear grin, Paisley's is thin and tight lipped. Maybe this symbolizes the reluctance of the Unionists to abandon the traditional superiority over the Catholics which they abused for so many years but this is why more fulsome contacts between their leader and the other side are so heartening.
From this side of the Irish Sea, freed of the incubus of history which British misrule so carelessly bestowed upon Ireland- and for an inkling of it see Ken Loach's powerful The Wind that Shakes the Barley- we find it hard to understand the lethal enmities which divide the province. We tend to know both Irish Catholics and Protestants and find them both charming and warm hearted; so it seems incredible they can hate each other so passionately when they have so much in common. But now, perhaps, they are finally beginning to realize this fundamental truth themselves.
When Paisley saw Ahern on his arrival at Farmleigh House in Dublin he quipped 'I better shake hands with this man. I'll give him a firm handshake.' Later he emerged to declare:
"I trust that old barriers and threats will be removed in my day. Business opportunities are flourishing. Genuine respect for the understanding of each other's differences and, for that matter, similarities is now developing."
To seal the deal they will both visit the site of the Battle of the Boyne later this year, the symbol of division between Catholics and Protestants since July 1690 when the newly installed King William of Orange defeated the forces of the deposed James II of England. Slowly the behaviour of the old turtle of Ulster politics demonstrates that the ice is breaking. It is to be hoped that the process continues apace; it is more than possible that his bowler hatted Orange militant followers will take their lead from him . And here's a thought to cheer Tony up as he contemplates early retirement, if Mairead Corrigan, David Trimble and John Hume can win the Nobel Peace prize for their work in Northern Ireland, how much stronger a case can be made for Blair to receive the same honour?
Incidentally, Paisley is an interesting case. His beliefs are obviously primitive and sectarian, but it is not true, as is often said, that he has always been the most intransigent of Unionists. In the early 1970's there was a "Paisley wobble". In an interview in the Irish Times in 1971 he seemed to consider a united Ireland so long as the 1937 De Valera Constitution was changed (e.g. removing Article 44 which referred to the "special position" of the Catholic Church and is now long gone). Paisley was criticised by both the UDA and by Brian Faulkner, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, and a truly loathsome piece of work. According to Ed Maloney in his biography of Paisley, he quickly "drew back from the brink" and told reporters he was "absolutely opposed" to a united Ireland. At the time, it seemed Paisley might be outflanked on the right by the Vanguard movement (with which Trimble was involved, and whose leader, James Craig, later (March 1972) addressed his supporters thus:"We are prepared to come out and shoot and kill. I am prepared to come out and shoot and kill, let's put the bluff aside. I am prepared to kill, and those behind me will have my full support." Peter Taylor's interviews with loyalists makes it clear that this was taken as a signal by them to target ordinary Catholics. So far as I am aware David Trimble expressed no disagreements with these sentiments at the time and has been rather coy since then). Anyway, Paisley never made the same mistake again; his political strategy thereafter was the stunningly simple one of always being more intransigent than anyone else. Moloney quotes Clifford Smyth to the effect that Paisley won't "lead his people" because he is "too responsive to the feelings of the people in the wee Protestant hall in Ballymena...". We will have to see if he has the stomach to face down the rejectionists within his own party - who will undoubtably become more vocal over the coming months.
I reckon The Big Man has finally decided to have a go at executive government and that he will indeed face down the opposition in his own DUP. Thanks for your very interesting comment by the way.
...and another thing, I can't understand the phrase - Paisley wont 'lead his people' because he is 'too responsive to the feelings of the people in the wee protestant hall in Ballymena'. A snide remark at a man that has the courage to move things forward for Ulster I think. As far as Blair goes, I wouldn't give him the time of day never mind a nobel prize - his tenure in government has not only seen the demise of the RUC, but also of the RIR Home Battalions.
And don't say its for the best - because it isn't - it's yet another sop to republicans as the British government tries to win favour with them - something they haven't been able to achieve in the last 450 years...
First the black and tans, then the RIC, then the USC, then the UDR, then the RUC, then the RIR. Tony Blair should be awarded a long walk off a short cliff...
All orange men dont follow Paisley - he has his own independent orange order for his followers - so please don't treat my cultural heritage as a political football. The Orange Lodge I'm in is neither political nor militant. In fact they probably do more work for charity and the community than most people do in a lifetime. So please don't assume that all us orangemen are loyalist bigots...
I take what you say about not assuming all Orange men are bigots but it would help your case a bit more if you could eschew the rancorous tone of someone immersed in a such a culture.
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