New Hope in Northern Ireland
Unfortunately, the extreme unionists withdrew their support for the agreement during the negotiation for the IRA’s disarmament. Hard-line unionists, led by Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), want to prevent the peace process from continuing by blocking Trimble’s reelection today. In effect, if he is not reelected, the region will return to rule from London and the IRA might stop disarming. It is widely agreed that Trimble is the only man who can get enough support on both sides to be First Minister.
There are 60 members of the Northern Ireland legislative assembly voting in today’s election, and only a simple majority is needed to put Trimble back in office. However, the DUP and even some members of Trimble’s own party (the Ulster Unionists Party or UUP) are objecting to pushing forward with the peace process because they think the IRA hasn’t put in enough effort to disarm. Unfortunately, the decommissioning (or disarming) process is all very secretive, and it is overseen by a neutral decommissioning body, led by General John de Chastelain of Canada. The unionists are hesitant because they want to make sure that the IRA gets rid of a substantial amount of weapons soon, and all of them within a few months.
There is no perfect solution to this problem. The best way to continue the peace process now is to reelect Trimble and make sure the IRA continues with its disarmament. But the IRA has broken promises in the past and could do so in future. If Trimble is restored to power, he needs to make sure that General de Chastelain reports regularly on what progress is being made. At the same time, paramilitaries on the unionist side must be forced to disarm. The Ulster Freedom Fighters (who are connected with Paisely’s UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force are smaller than the IRA but equally dangerous to the peace process. They, along with small nationalist paramilitary groups such as the Real IRA, must be forced to disband and disarm.
The root of all the conflict is, of course, the voting public of Northern Ireland. Many people have their minds strongly set on being either Irish citizens or British citizens. The problem with the compromise is that as the government moves closer and closer to the middle, some people will inevitably feel alienated and gravitate more towards the extremes. With the IRA disarming, some hard-line republicans will switch their support to the Real IRA, but we can only hope that support for terrorism will be low following Sept. 11.
The British government also has a very crucial role in pushing toward the goals outlined in the Good Friday Agreement. Prime Minister Tony Blair started things off by disassembling spy towers in the county of Armagh last week, and he must continue with his promise to reduce the British military presence in Northern Ireland.
The Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNR) should replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), an almost completely Protestant group that fought often with the IRA in the 1980s. Sinn Fein and other Catholic groups should take an active role in the supervision and implementation of the new police force, with the intention of making it nonsectarian and fair to all citizens of Northern Ireland.
Finally, the people of Northern Ireland need to work to create a society of non-violence. John Hume, the recently retired leader of the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Trimble won the Nobel Prize in 1998 for their work for the peace agreement. Since he founded the SDLP in 1969, Hume has been consistently opposed to violence while supporting the nationalist ideals. By following his example of considering this a political struggle and not a war, the people of Northern Ireland can learn to live like Americans—at peace with fellow citizens of all religions and political beliefs.
If the British government, the IRA and the protestant extremists can keep compromising and destroying their guns, peace and prosperity will replace anger and pessimism in the north. This can only be done if David Trimble is reelected first minister of the Northern Ireland assembly.
Nicholas F.B. Smith ’05 lives in Wigglesworth Hall.