On Dec 9th in 1973 the Sunningdale agreement was signed, setting up a power sharing administration in Northern Ireland. It was followed by a unionist backlash, a general strike and a breakdown in public order. The agreement did not survive for six months.
As a result of the collapse of Sunningdale Northern Ireland, and the Mainland UK, were to suffer 25 years of tit for tat violence and terrorism.
In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed, introducing a power sharing administration. It was nicknamed “Sunningdale for slow learners”.
There is a lesson here for policy makers who are attempting to resolve conflicts between polarised interests. Before any peaceable agreement can be implemented it must be sold effectively to both sides. In particular it must be sold to the hard line extremists.
Moderate interests are always focused on the solution. Hard line extremists focus on their positions, rights, entitlements, traditions. They worry about symbols such as marches, flags, badges and language. When finding a solution that includes the hard liners the devil is in the detail.
For any solution to work requires the hard liners to engage in the the process to find the solution. If they are excluded from the process they will simply undermine any solution that emerges.
In many situations the Hard Line interests are operating outside of the sphere of legality. They are often labelled as criminals and are wanted by the police for terrorist activity. Any negotiation process must begin by recognizing the right of these people to be present at the negotiation table. This in itself is often anathema to other interests.
Building agreement is a delicate choreography of acceptance, inclusion and negotiation.
Parents: by Paul Durcan
A child’s face is a drowned face:
Her parents stare down at her asleep
Estranged from her by a sea:
She is under the sea
And they are above the sea:
If she looked up she would see them
As if locked out of their own home.
Their mouths open.
Their foreheads furrowed –
Pursed-up orifices of fearful fish –
Their big ears are fins behind the glass
And in her sleep she is calling out to them
But they cannot hear her:
She is inside the sea
And they are outside the sea,
Throughout the night, stranded, they stare
At the drowned, drowned face of their child.