Work of a lifetime

Martin-mcguinness.jpg

Born in 1950 in Derry, Northern Ireland,  Martin McGuinness grew up in the worst era for Catholics in Northern Ireland.  They were discriminated against so badly in Protestant Northern Ireland that they emulated Black Americans such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in setting up non-violent civil rights protests against the regime.

Through the 1960’s just as in America, the ruling class escalated the use of violence to break the protests.  McGuinness joined the IRA and was, at only 21 years of age, the second in command of the Derry Provisional IRA when British Paratroopers murdered 14 civil rights protesters in Bloody Sunday.

He was imprisoned, treated as a terrorist by a British Regime under Maggie Thatcher.  A British Government that seemed hell bent on destroying the nationalist cause by violence, intolerance and general all round hatefulness.

Elected to Stormont in 1982 in the wake of the hunger strikes and the death of Bobby Sands he, like all Sinn Féin, did not take his seat.

McGuinness went on to become the chief negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement and he took personal responsibility for disarming the IRA.

On this day, his birthday, in 1998 the people of Northern Ireland voted on the Agreement in a referendum.  75% of the people of Northern Ireland voted for peace.

Think about that.  25% of the Northern Irish wanted to continue the violence, the death and destruction.  Who are these people?

McGuinness was cast by his enemies as a villain and a terrorist.  But this is a man who worked tirelessly for peace all his life.  A short life in the end.  He passed away last year aged only 66.

Martin lived to see his life’s work come to fruition.  Northern Ireland is not a finished object and there is a long road to go to reconciliation.  That 25% of nay sayers is still up there looking to bring the whole thing crashing down about our ears.  Don’t let them.

 

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Timing

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

Father, Father

Mother, Mother

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.

Winning the war on terror

Improvised British Armoured Car

Improvised British Armoured Car

You cannot win a “war on terror” by military action.  Anyone who believes otherwise should look a the modern history of Ireland.

The Irish people wanted independence from Great Britain.  They moved between violent and political approaches over time.  Ultimately the Irish developed the dual strategy now nicknamed “the bullet and the ballot box”.  the British Empire was at the peak of its powers in the early 20th Century.  Ireland is not a large nation like India.  Ireland is not a powerful nation like the USA.  Ireland is not located far away from the centre of British power, like New Zealand.  Ireland is a small, weak country sitting right in Britains armpit.

Despite holding all the cards the British could not hold Ireland.  They could win every battle but never win the “war”.  The Irish learned that it was foolish to engage in fair fights against the British, so we fought dirty, the guerilla.

The IRA in the 1920’s made it impossible for the British to administer Ireland.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland moved from a guerilla war to a terrorist war.  They fought it on British soil.  It was even dirtier than the guerilla war of the 1920’s. The British evenually learned that they could not win this war.  Every victory they scored against the terrorists was a recruitment drive for the IRA.

The British learned at last that the way to end a war on terror was to build peace.  Engender understanding and respect for your foe, listen to their grievances, right the wrongs and work together to build a better society.

So I was simply astounded yesterday listening to David Cameron crowing like a cock in parliament over the murder of “Jihadi John”.  Simply calling the man by this jingoistic nickname is an indication that the British Government have forgotten all the hard won lessons of the Northern Ireland peace process.

This morning as David Cameron surveys the wreckage of Paris I wonder how bullish he feels about “taking out” Jihadi John?  The important thing here is to take a deep breath and review the situation.

The “war on terror” is going to kill British and French people, and perhaps also Americans and Russians.  You don’t fight a war in Syria.  You care for the Syrian people.  You give them peace and prosperity.  You defend them from violence.  You stop selling them guns and start buying their melons.  You stabilise their economy and give the Syrian people what they want, a safe and comfortable home.  That’s how you defeat terrorism.