Overriding duty is to make the peace last

IRELAND’S Rugby Football Union has just appointed a team of advisers it believes can orchestrate a successful all-island bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

The Irish team will include advisers involved in the last three Olympic games, as well as this year’s Rugby World Cup. This is just one of many projects, each a declaration of ambition and national confidence we can all be proud of, that would probably come to nothing if the North’s political impasse creates a vacuum where the old hatreds and mistrust can slip back to centre stage. Political instability exacts a very high cost.

A return to anything approaching the divisions of the past would be a return to the isolation of the relatively recent past, an isolation that kept this island, particularly the North, as a kind of suspended-in-time backwater that everyone had heard of but could not begin to understand. Internecine warfare between two strands of Christianity each dedicated to different national flags was increasingly incomprehensible in an ever more secular 21st century world. Such a scenario would be even more incomprehensible today.

It is as if in the few short years of peace, hardly half a generation, we have forgotten how terrible, how dehumanising, emotionally and psychologically destructive, the campaigns waged by both sets of terrorists were. It is as if we have forgotten how terrible a price the loyalist and republican warlords imposed on the communities they imagined they represented. We cannot return to those days and if there is even the slightest prospect that we might, and even if ringing that alarm bell may seem terribly premature, it seems better to be alert to the possibilities rather than to sleepwalk back to the past. Of course there are myriad subplots; of course there are contrived positions; of course there is dangerous brinkmanship; of course there are leaks designed to damage; and of course there are long-tolerated and convenient fictions at the centre of the entire Stormont construct — but none of those things make the North’s politics in any way unusual. There is certainly a very unhelpful level of mistrust, uncertainty and, on some issues like welfare reform, unrealistic expectations of exceptional support.

The Democratic Unionist Party has, as it should have, questioned the status of the IRA. They have, however, been less than forthright about questions that show some of their senior members in a way that questions their suitability for high office. Sinn Féin is walking a tightrope too, especially in terms of its determination not to accept social welfare cuts, especially as steadfast opposition to such cuts is the bedrock of its strategy come election time in the Republic.

In recent weeks European governments have had to acknowledge that they did not respond to the refugee crisis with the generosity their citizens would wish. That same principle applies here — all of the people of this island expect the North’s politicians to make the peace work and last.

Those fighting the old wars are behind the curve and if it requires a generational change in leadership to break this impasse, then so be it. The good work of the last decade, the peace-building, cannot be undone.


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