Thursday, March 06, 2008

King of the slow learners

The Irish Times has a roundup of reflections on the career of Ian Paisley. It's an excellent cross-section and the remarks make for very different reading than the backslapping "tributes" from the likes of Bertie Ahern; indeed, signs that Unionists tired of the so-called Chuckle Brothers routine between Paisley and Martin McGuinness show that the person in the street has a bit more sophistication about these things than the suits at the top.

Anyway, the recurring feature of from the Irish Times roundup (subs. req'd) is the references to Sunningdale -- a deal on the table 3 decades before Good Friday implementation and not much different from it. But who blocked it? Ian Paisley. So --

David Trimble
Northern Ireland first minister, 1998 to 2001

One thing we can be sure of is that without Ian Paisley, there would have been a political settlement in Northern Ireland a generation earlier. And if Tony Blair had kept his promises to me at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, his (Paisley's) political demise would have come a decade ago.

Séamus Mallon
Deputy first minister to David Trimble

... Yes, he brought unionism into a powersharing arrangement with Sinn Féin, but to do that he had to destroy, as he had destroyed Terence O'Neill, as he destroyed Faulkner, as he destroyed Chichester Clarke - he had to destroy the unionist leader David Trimble. It tells you about the paradox of all this, that the creativity which he undoubtedly gave the political process in Northern Ireland in his later years was achieved as a result of the destructive element in his approach to politics and this type of political atavism which demanded absolute and total power.

Ruairi Ó Brádaigh
Former chief of staff of the IRA and currently president of Republican Sinn Féin

The great unanswered question before history is why did not Paisley, on the one hand, and the present Provo leadership, on the other, accept and work the Sunningdale agreement of 1973 which offered more and for which less was to be paid than the 1998 Belfast Agreement? Did we, as a people, have to endure 25 years more of sacrifice and suffering until both elements were poised to divide the major share of the spoils of office between them?

From their very different perspectives, they can see what Tony Blair can not --

The man famous for saying No will go down in history for saying Yes. He did so personally convinced it was right and in reaching that conviction, consigning to the past the feelings he once so trenchantly articulated.

That trenchant articulation made him the dominant figure in Unionism. Then he did the same deal that was available in 1974. So did Sinn Fein. Is it any wonder that people outside the self-congratulatory circle feel bitter?

AP Photo/Peter Morrison

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