Well, once again the unthinkable has happened in my life time. First it was the Berlin Wall coming down, and the end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Then it was 9/11. Then it was the Red Sox winning the World Series. Now we have Ian Paisley and Marty McGuinness sitting side by side in a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland.
Today, May 8th, saw both the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s McGuinness take their respective oaths of offices as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Even a mere five years ago this was all bu unthinkable. Paisley’s obstructionism, and virulent hatred of anything vaguely associated with the Catholic Church all but had assured that this day would never come to pass. Add to this a series of waffles from both Tony Blair, the British PM, and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, and for a time, all hope was lost. Shows what I or any other pundit knows.
Yet here we are, a first step on a still longer road. Yes, they all sat down and agreed to the nominations for the various offices. Yes, they all took their oaths on time, and in the presence of all concerned. Now it’s time to see if they can actually make this monster work. The actual business of governing, establishing and implementing policy, taxation, spending, and of course, the all important policing issue, will show if this assembly has a snow balls chance in heck of surviving.
Past precedent in this area is not rosy. The failed 1972 attempt between the UUP and SDLP was still born. The previous attempt under the Good Friday Agreement rapidly failed as the various parties hurled accusations around, and forced London to dissolve it. But, the circumstances on the ground have changed significantly since those earlier forays into self government.
Not only is the IRA on cease fire, and actively disarming (per the International Monitoring Commission), but now the UVF has announces it will dump arms. This is in addition to other factions from both sides having “gone political.” Does this mean an end to the role of the gun in Irish politics? Probably not just yet, as too many on all sides will hedge their bets on this, remembering the past all too lividly.
So here’s to them. Here’s to hoping that this assembly can make things work. Here’s to hoping that they can get their act together, and some time in the next 10 years or so, we can see a real referendum on the future of the six counties.