Northern Ireland has been tired for a long, long time. With every new peace promise broken by another round of violence, its people wonder if self-rule is truly possible. Part of the problem lies in discrepancies over how pro-British Protestants and Irish Catholics believe the Good Friday accord of 1998, which set up the parameters of the current government of Northern Ireland, should be implemented. As Irish, British and Northern Irish government officials worked last week toward a compromise package which could keep Northern Ireland’s government intact despite recent disputes, there was one party leader who once again decided that his role as a player in the peace process was a virtual one: Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams.
While other parties have made painful concessions since the Good Friday agreement, Mr. Adams has performed eloquent finger-pointing and balked on deadlines for his own commitments namely to influence the paramilitary IRA to put its weapons beyond use. This resulted in Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble resigning as first minister of Northern Ireland on July 1. Without a first minister, and without a peace solution, Northern Ireland’s multi-party government will fall Aug. 12. Ulster’s options aren’t promising. Power could be handed back to Britain, dissolving the self-governing institutions set forth by the Good Friday accord of 1998 which has served as the foundation for the peace process and Ulster’s home rule. Or there could be new elections, which would likely put extremists opposed to the fundamentals of the peace process in power. The Irish and British governments are still hoping to present the parties of Northern Ireland with a package that could stave off the Ulster government’s break-up, but prospects are unlikely.
Standing in the way is Mr. Adam’s refusal to commit to a starting date for paramilitary weapons disarmament, which his armed political partners, the IRA, had promised to complete by the end of this June. By contrast, ever since Mr. Trimble helped craft the Good Friday agreement, he has nudged his party members toward concession after concession in his quest toward a peace solution with the pro-Irish Catholic parties in Northern Ireland. His pro-British colleagues would need to be comfortable with a considerable down-scaling of the British military and police presence in Northern Ireland, despite a lack of guarantee from the IRA that they would get rid of their weapons. They would need to allow a Protestant-dominated police force to be changed into a bipartisan one. They would be forced to watch as deadline after deadline mandated by the Good Friday accord which all parties of Northern Ireland signed rolled by and the IRA still did not destroy its weapons. At some point, there was nothing left to give.
So Mr. Adams has now also blamed the “British war machine” for fueling the political tensions. So what exactly has this “war machine” done to prove its commitment to the Good Friday accords? The British military presence in Northern Ireland is at its lowest since 1970. Joint military-police patrols there have decreased by 50 percent, and 42 military bases have been closed or destroyed, according to the British embassy.
It seems the war machine still in place would belong to Sinn Fein.