The Future

In the coming months the worst case scenario is that all the historic mistrust will get on top of the talks. That those parties outside the talks in Northern Ireland, and there are two, will be able to whip up fears in the larger community so that the Ulster Unionist party won't have the confidence to continue. So, either it's going to be as a result of historic mistrust or short-term political gain. That's the worst case scenario.

The best case scenario is that the Irish peace process will follow what happened in South Africa. It will use the vocabulary of South Africa where they seek a sufficient consensus to make sure you can build up a strong center. And, those who are outside the process realize the futility of being outside the process, and they will come in over time. And, with the support of civil society in norther Ireland, the business community, the churches, you will have for the first time ever in the history of Northern Ireland a proper, inclusive political dialogue.

Again, another facet which is helping the peace process with the last British elections, which occurred in May of 1997, when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were elected. These are the two people at the heart of the Republican peace process. The symbolism, the propaganda value of all of this is huge. The self esteem which their community has got is huge. The fact that these are the two people who are leading the peace faction, have been elected, cannot be underestimated.

The fact that they've gone into a parliament symbolically - because they haven't gone in in person - the fact that they've gone in there, which is led by Labor government, who chose no favors to any Ulster Unionists or any Irish nationalist ... (inaudible) But, a Labor government which is a huge majority, and has got a very close working relationship with the Clinton administration. All of that plays in favor of a peace process.

The Blair team, long before they come into office, were watching very closely what John Major did. The one thing that they had hoped was that Major would push things along so far that they could pick it up and go further with it. They didn't foresee that they were going to get such a magnificent, spectacular victory. So, they don't have to look over their shoulders at the conservatives who are so disorganized and so demoralized. They also have, at a person level, a very good relationship between the president and the prime minister. They have people in the Labor administration who have studied very closely how the democratic presidential campaigns worked, and how the American political system works. So that there is a meeting of minds and a meeting of attitudes which was never there before.

I think we have to suspend judgement on the long war. As they sit at the talks at the moment, the best that can be given is an interim judgement. And interim judgement is that the IRA and the Republican movement have led through their own mistakes, also through their own heroism, and also through their own ruthlessness. That if they had gone for this earlier, it is conceivable that we could have avoided some of the deaths.

Equally, it is conceivable that others had to go through the same learning curve. And so you cannot look at the Republican movement in isolation. You have to look at the wider picture. And in the wider picture, you arrive at an interim judgement that most of the parties, including the Republican movement, are now prepared to accept less than .... when they set out. And that I see as huge progress. And that I see as learning from other peace processes.

People like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have gone through their own very painful form of political odyssey. They have gone down a very long road where they believe in simplistically that you could win this militarily. They have suffered with their people, they have suffered themselves. They have realized the damage which violence has done.

They have had the moral courage to admit that there is another way forward. They have shown the political leadership to bring their people along ... and if they can continue in that vein, then perhaps they will be judged to be Mandelas ... Washingtons ... whomever.

Sinn Fein have to convince the Irish people as a whole that this is not part of a cynical ploy, that they're not going to return to violence. So, they have a very tall order in speaking to constituencies.

It's not the governments in Dublin or London, it's not the administration here; it is the people of Ireland. And that is a monumental task.

In the end, there is never any end in politics; politics is a process. What they will see in the medium term is less than Irish unity. Not simply because of their campaign of violence, but simply because the way that politics is evolving globally.

So, in the end, what they might see is the notion of strong regionalism in the island of Ireland, which will be part of a regional European union. And, in that sense, people will be able to claim multiple identities. They can be British, they can be Irish, they can be European. And in that sort of fudge you have an answer to the Irish conflict.

Americans, and particularly Irish Americans, have also gone through their own learning curve over this past 25 to 27 years. There was a cross-simplicity to begin with. There was identification with the underdog, while turning a blind eye to many of the things that that underdog was doing. To simplifying some horrible violence on the part of the IRA and others.

But, now that they have gone through that, I think that Americans have a much stronger realization of the complexity of the problem, and also of a much stronger sense of the ownership to the outcome of the problem. And it's holding onto that ownership which I think is very important in the medium term.

We could say that, in fact, peace process is the hard bit; killing is easy. Killing can give certain people in the community their sense of self esteem. It's the only thing they know.

Knowing that that has to stop, they simply become ordinary members of their community. And so as part of the peace process, it is essential that what has built into it is an attempt to civilianize these people. It has been tried in other peace processes with very limited success, it should be said. El Salvador is a classic example.

But, I think, it is more likely to be achievable in the Irish conflict for very simple reasons. And that is the continuing part of the family, the continuing traditional Catholic beliefs. The fact that it is the communities which sanctions violence, and the community can turn it off.

home .  the conflict .  inside the ira .  readings .  poems & songs .  special reports .  chronology .  map .  links .  viewer discussion .  press reaction .  tapes & transcripts

New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/Frontline PBS Online