- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

In the 13 years since the Downing Street Declaration, when the British announced negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future that would include Sinn Fein-IRA, and in the eight years since the Good Friday Agreement, when all parties to the conflict agreed a power-sharing government for the province, there have been several “historic breakthroughs” that broke through only to further conflict and death. Is it really different this time?

Last week’s meeting in Belfast between the Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein-Irish Republican Army was a strained and tense affair. Neither man looked straight at the other. Both conveyed suspicion, Mr. Paisley giving his usual impression of stolid intransigence, Mr. Adams with his trademark wolfish grin. But they talked the talk.

“We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children,” said Mr. Paisley. “The relationships between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of hurt and tragedy…. We have created the potential to build a new, harmonious and equitable arrangement,” echoed Mr. Adams. And they walked the walk.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein — the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly — agreed to establish a joint power-sharing executive in six weeks time at the Stormont parliament, barring accidents.

Can accidents be barred? Probably. This final stage of the “peace process” was rooted firmly in real factors that are unlikely to change. Both parties want to get their bottoms in ministerial limos and their hands on large salaries (plus expenses.) London and Dublin played tough and clever — threatening Mr. Paisley with joint rule of Ulster by both governments and threatening everyone with a highly unpopular policy of charging for water unless Mr. Paisley and Mr. Adams got together.

And after six years of uneasy peace, no one wants to return to the terror war — ordinary people don’t want to be bombed and the terrorists don’t want to return to life on the run and in prison.

There will certainly be hard bargaining in the next six weeks to decide which parties get to run which government departments. There may be walkouts and threats of withdrawal. An occasional bombing by “renegade” terrorists (as opposed to the decent respectable sort) may heighten tensions. But the overwhelming likelihood is that a joint DUP-Sinn Fein administration will take office in early summer. The “Troubles” of 1967-2007 will be over.

So there is cause for relief. But is there also cause for celebration?

Consider, first, the costs. In the last 40 years more than 3,700 people were killed and many more maimed out of a population of 1.5 million. The security forces killed 360. Irish Republican terrorists accounted for 2,200 dead, including most Catholic victims. The rest were victims of Protestant paramilitaries.

In addition to these human victims, the corpses of moderate Unionism and constitutional Irish nationalism also litter the field (as the Irish revisionist historian, Ruth Dudley Edwards, points out.) Both these decent, moderate and (until recently) dominant traditions have been reduced to minor parties. Nobel Laureate John Hume is no longer politically active; his fellow Laureate David Trimble lives in London where in the streets, instead of his being barracked, strangers thank him for his work for peace. Northern Ireland is now governed by its own extremes.

Now, consider who was responsible?

Mr. Adams and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, were directly responsible for many murders as members of the IRA’s Army Council, which ordered them. To them attaches the greatest blame. Mr. Paisley bears a lesser but still serious responsibility as the leader of mob opposition to liberal reforms which brought down a series of moderate Unionist leaders.

The next “perp” is a surprising one, namely Tony Blair, the British prime minister. He deserves credit for bringing the violence to an end by his diplomacy. It is his best — maybe his only — claim to a political legacy. But it comes with a heavy price tag.

In the long “peace process” Mr. Blair leaned over backward to appease Sinn Fein-IRA at the expense of the moderate democratic parties — as Peter Mandelson, his close ally and a former Northern Ireland secretary, revealed only days ago. This bias was needless because the IRA was militarily on the ropes. It was also damaging politically because it made the extremists look respectable and the democrats weak and ineffectual.

Consider, finally, the results. Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness waged a terrorist war for 30 years to destroy the Belfast parliament dominated by moderate Unionists and to impose a united Ireland governed from Dublin. Today Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. Mr. Paisley is slated to be the first minister of Northern Ireland in Stormont. And Mr. McGuinness will be his deputy.

Mr. Paisley agitated against a series of moderate Unionist prime ministers because they were willing to share power with constitutional nationalists and to establish cross-border links with Dublin. Tomorrow he will lead an administration that includes unrepentant nationalist terrorists and that is to cooperate with Dublin.

And Mr. Blair’s clever but defeatist diplomacy has delivered Ulster to these twin extremes. To the North’s suburban middle class that may not be very noticeable. But the working class ghettoes on both sides will now be effectively governed by local mafias rooted in the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries.

The police are to be supervised by boards on which “former terrorists” can serve. And the rules of power-sharing pretty much guarantee Sinn Fein and Mr. Paisley a freehold grip on political power. That’s bad news for southern Ireland where the “Shinners” are a growing force.

Sinn Fein is the richest party in Ireland and maybe Europe. Financed by overseas (mainly American) donations, its mafia rackets, legal investments across Europe and, not least, bank robberies, Sinn Fein can afford constituency services and media propaganda beyond the means of democratic parties in the Irish Republic. And now it will have the respectability and influence of its governmental role in Ulster.

More than 100 years ago, when the Ulster crisis was just starting, Rudyard Kipling wrote a savage attack on British officialdom for appeasing terrorism. It concluded:

If print is print or words are words, the learned Court

perpends./We are not ruled by murderers, but only — by their friends.

Today Northern Ireland’s people cannot make even that modest boast. They are ruled by murderers to the applause of comfortable bourgeois politicians in London, Dublin and Washington — and will be for many years to come. The South may be next.

Sure, it’s better than being bombed indefinitely — but on the whole I’d rather be in Philadelphia.

John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of the National Review and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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