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Robinson's demands are hot air

(, Irish News)

I wonder did Peter Robinson read the Sunday papers last weekend. And if he did, whether an article headed 'Strewth! Ireland brushed out of Games' caught his eye. It was about an advertisement for the Commonwealth Olympic Games which are due to be held in Melbourne next year. The ad was launched last week and included a rugby player in an Irish jersey, or it did until someone pointed out that Ireland last appeared in the Commonwealth list of countries nearly sixty years ago. At which point the ad was pulled, the jersey digitally recoloured from green to brown, the Irish crest erased and it was re-released for public consumption.

The thing is, if Peter Robinson saw that newspaper item, there's a chance – a slim chance – he'll stop talking the rubbish he's been talking for weeks now.

I'm referring, of course, to the way he's been doing the Macho Unionist Man (MUM) by insisting there must be a 'visual element' to IRA decommissioning. It would be unthinkable, he insists, to leave something so important in the hands of General John de Chastelain, even though the Canadian is a military man with a lifetime of experience of weaponry and was officially appointed to the task. No, no, no, Peter says. The unionist people must have more convincing testimony than this. They must have 'visual' testimony.

For a moment I thought he meant he should be allowed to attend and witness the decommissioning but the absurdity of that soon became apparent. He may be a political pin-up in the pleated-skirts quarters but in all things military the DUP deputy leader is an empty suit. Clontibret and the silly Third Force beret aside, Peter's military experience is zilch. He'd be a hopeless witness.

No, what the DUP deputy leader actually had in mind was the filming of the destruction of IRA weapons. A Speilberg, as he says, which brings us back to that Sunday newspaper article. If a rugby jersey can be recoloured and rebranded, think what digital technology could do with a cache of weapons – and remember how George Bush was able to do digital multiplying with his campaign ad, showing one soldier as if he were 40. The decommissioning video could multiply an AK-47 here, erase a spot of Semtex there and present the DUP with a package that would have the weakest of links with reality. You want a Speilberg, Peter? You got one.

But hold. Even as I type, word comes through that the IRA may have agreed to a brace of clergymen being present at a decommissioning act. Now clearly, in terms of military know-how, these two clergymen will be about as much use as a cow's fifth tit. Guns and godliness don't mix much or certainly shouldn't. If the IRA has in fact suggested them as witnesses, it can only be because that organisation, like the DUP, knows the whole decommissioning affair has very little to do with unionist fear of being attacked and a great deal to do with unionism's desire to be seen to have triumphed.

And that desire runs very wide and very deep. Ideally, the head of Gerry Adams would have been paraded on a platter before Mr Paisley at DUP headquarters and Martin McGuinness would have been skinned and his hide stretched across the entrance foyer at Cunningham House. But since neither of these options seem likely, the public de-fanging of the IRA is the one they're going after. "The day after decommissioning has occurred, we want everyone to be completely satisfied that the guns have gone" – that was Peter Robinson, quoted in this paper yesterday morning.

A long time ago, the then leader of the SDLP, John Hume, said that decommissioning was a waste of time, since the IRA could replenish its stocks the next day if it so chose. Nothing has happened since to invalidate that judgement. All that will be different the morning after decommissioning will be that Big Ian and his boys will be able to claim that it was his party's cast-iron political cojones wot won it, that thanks to them the enemies of Ulster have been finally defeated. The catch is, shortly after saying that, the DUP will be forced to go into government with the enemies of Ulster, who have committed themselves to de-fanging inequality and discrimination in this state, thus removing one of the main reasons for the state's continued existence.

Strewth – you think you can see the big political picture straight and whole, then next thing it changes to something truly awful, right in front of your eyes.

November 19, 2004

This article appeared first in the November 18, 2004 edition of the Irish News.

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