I reckon it must have been quite a shock for Adams and McGuinness when they first realised that the people from the Republic did not really care for a united Ireland. Yes, if it was a soft focused notion fantasised about in the pub over a few pints. Certainly not though if the dream showed any sign of becoming a reality and there was a serious possibility of bringing the disruptive people of the north into the family.
John Hume seemed to cotton on that the dream of a united land governed from Dublin was just that and started the post-national language years ago. During their frequent visits to Dublin over the years nationalist politicians of all hues have faced up to the evidence that the everyday people of this very modern European state viewed our incessant bickering with a mixture of boredom and horror. The recent study focusing mainly on attitudes to Britain rather than Northern Ireland conducted on behalf of the British Council and embassy Through Irish Eyes says it all when it looks at attitudes to Northern Ireland. "Everything is just different. Everything about it: the people, the infrastructure, even their clothes, their way of life. They are different people."
Gerry Adams also began changing his language to take account of this reality many years ago. Demands for a united Ireland were replaced by a very different requirement that Britain should get out and allow self-government of the Irish people by the Irish people. The conclusion arrived at in many British and unionist circles was that he was at last accepting that unionists could not be forced into a united Ireland. It is also very likely that he knew, that for all the commitment and dedication of the Republic's government and its officials to an enduring peace process, they also stopped short of welcoming the north into the family home. As for sharing their Celtic tiger, the modern-day version of the fatted calf, I would imagine that the average southerner believes that we northerners, Catholic and Protestant have squandered enough of the British taxpayers money on mindless fighting without starting to eat into the newly-gained and hard-won wealth of the south.
So northern nationalists who carried a vision since partition of a nation once again had a long time to say goodbye to that vision when they voted magnanimously for the Good Friday Agreement. No-one should minimise the sacrifice that was made. Although far short of the dreams they had harboured for years, government of the north by Northern Irish people became an alternative that could be lived with, as long as their right to be, and be seen to be, Irish was accepted.
It would be a pretty fair guess that if British people were given the opportunity to express their views they also consider us to be 'different people' who have taxed their patience too much. I imagine that their view is that we should grow up and start to govern ourselves.
Given that all around us there is support for self-government what is it really that makes this path so difficult? Why is it so hard for unionists to acknowledge that the Republic is not planning a takeover bid and that northern nationalists have accepted the practical legitimacy of a Northern Ireland? Just before the last election I was truly shocked one night to hear Trimble, who had been our First Minister and consequently, one would have thought first and foremost a supporter of the agreement, suggest to voters that second and subsequent preference votes should go to those who supported the Union. He may not have meant it as such but many people interpreted his words to mean vote anti-agreement in preference to giving your vote to any nationalist party. His advice presumably extended to not voting even for those politicians who wholeheartedly supported the agreement and who all their political lives opposed the use of violence for political ends.
One presumes that as party leader he represented the view also of his fellow party politicians. Few rushed to challenge his statement. His comments were not in the context of which politicians supported or did not support disarmament or disbandment of paramilitary weapons or people. It sounded like a call for unionists irrespective of their political convictions to close ranks. If that is the case we are right after all this time to feel pessimistic. Those who argue that decommissioning etc is but a smoke screen to prevent power sharing could be right. If they are wrong nationalists of every persuasion need to hear from unionists of all persuasions a clear declaration untrammelled with conditions that they will trust and work to set up a proper power-sharing assembly.