Today republicans face an almost similar situation as they prepare to digest the unpalatable aspects of the Good Friday agreement.
Adams and McGuinness will be unable to satisfy in full the expectations of those who want the Ireland that the United Irishmen fought to achieve, while unionists are unable to digest much of what is expected of them.
Still, the agreement provides a structure that has the potential to bring people together to work for the common good. While it will not remove the British presence in Ireland today or next year, it has the capacity in the future to eliminate the need for such a presence. Deluded unionists continue to attach themselves to an England which has no use for those trapped in a 17th century time-warp. Yet Blair has not the bottle to tell Paisley and Trimble they no longer have his support to set a boundary to the progress of Ireland.
Today’s Sinn Féin leaders are confronted with the problems Collins and Griffith faced in the early 1920s. They believe the Good Friday agreement has within it the structures to let Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter work together in a regional and all-Ireland context.
Paisley and Robinson may have the ability to deliver whatever is agreed between the negotiating teams which Trimble lacked while he was in control.
As we look forward to the September talks, the ability of the British and Irish governments to resolve the issues through constitutional means is also on trial.
John J Hassett