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Patience is the key to success

(Editorial, Irish News)

Bertie Ahern was undoubtedly correct yesterday (Monday) when he stressed the massive opportunities presented during the latest round of political talks.

Where many observers will disagree with the Taoiseach is over his suggestion that a failure to reach a consensus within the next two weeks could leave the entire process in limbo until 2006.

There is little evidence that a breakthrough is about to take place and the most recent public statements from the key players have almost without exception been pessimistic.

A sudden flurry of activity is always possible and, as Mr Ahern implied, the gap between nationalists and unionists is more than capable of being bridged in the short term.

However, there are firm indications that the DUP in particular, for a number of reasons, is not yet ready to do business with Sinn Féin.

This should not come as a major surprise as, having condemned the Ulster Unionists as a 'push-over party' during previous negotiations, the DUP was never likely to accept an early outcome.

Ian Paisley and his colleagues can sit tight until the UK general election which is expected in May, with district council polls also fixed for the same month, confident in the knowledge that they will not be penalised by voters for any perceived intransigence.

It is also the case that those voices within the DUP who had been talking up the need for flexibility and imagination seem to have increasingly faded into the background.

Mr Paisley had the chance to draw his long political career to a triumphant close by accepting the post of first minister and then moving gracefully to retirement.

His reluctance to pay the price for this glittering prize – in the shape of an accommodation with Sinn Féin – has allowed an air of uncertainty to grow around the previously single-minded DUP.

Of course, some unionists will continue to express total scepticism about the intentions of republicans on the central issue of disarmament.

Such doubts are inevitable, but the reality is that the republican movement is engaged in a journey which can only take it in one direction.

Sinn Féin's political ambitions on both sides of the border require the arms question to be resolved as part of a wider package, and the remaining details are ready to be finalised.

Every effort must be made to broker a comprehensive deal in the coming weeks, but the concept of a stark and looming deadline is flawed.

If devolution cannot be restored before May, then all concerned need to start a fresh round of discussions immediately after the elections.

While Tony Blair may well have other priorities by that stage, it would be ludicrous to claim that he needs to personally attend every meeting with the main Northern Ireland parties.

Sooner or later, nationalists and unionists will have to decide how to progress their political relationships.

If that aim cannot be achieved before Christmas, we shall simply have to go on trying in the new year.

Patient diplomacy may be frustrating, but it is the only way forward.

November 10, 2004

This article appeared first in the November 9, 2004 edition of the Irish News.

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