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Changing times signals the end for rhetoric

(, Irish News)

Many are tired of the twists and turns of the peace process but I can also detect a seething anger among many unionists.

Their anger is directed at Ian Paisley for contemplating a deal with republicans that is no better and possibly worse than the original agreement.

This, after a lifetime of protest against conciliation and peace making, protests which many unionists believe were little more than a tactic to gain power and achieve personal triumph.

Paisley should take note of the anger because it could easily become an avalanche as people turn against him and his supporters. Previously he damned everyone who sought to make peace as traitors and Lundys. O'Neill had to go, Chichester Clark had to go, Brian Faulkner, Jim Molyneaux the Judas and David Trimble all had to go.

They went their different ways but Paisley remains and the prospect of gaining power seems to have given him a new lease of life. But rather than repent in sackcloth and ashes for the damage inflicted he claims victory over the UUP.

Some years ago I discovered that the supposed traitor Robert Lundy of 1688 fame was demonised for doing exactly what his accusers were doing – trying to come to terms with the enemy. Lundy was therefore a scapegoat in the truest sense, damned for doing precisely what his accusers were doing. O'Neill was similarly condemned by Brian Faulkner for his tentative and minimal concessions to nationalists but Faulkner went on to share power with the SDLP.

In 1998 from inside the building where the Good Friday deal was done I observed Paisley wandering about outside the building and protesting with a small crowd of followers. The whole place had been blockaded as Paisley tried to hype up fears. As I watched from an upstairs window I became convinced that at some level Paisley wanted to be inside but had been upstaged by Trimble.

It seemed he was deeply jealous of the latter's success.

He was also being hounded by a small number of loyalist protesters incensed that the man who resisted change for 40 years was now trying to damage possibilities of peace.

Paisley knows the deep antipathies that lie within hearts and minds and once he could draw out the fears with his rhetoric. This ability was a powerful weapon to be drawn upon to inflict fatal damage on potential deal-makers.

But notwithstanding his reversion to type in his Twelfth speech, he is now being decommissioned.

Rather than closing gates Paisley is now throwing them wide open to engage directly with the leadership of the Catholic Church and eventually with Sinn Féin.

He stands naked and exposed and his only excuse is that IRA weapons have been decommissioned and the IRA will support the police.

But the DUP insisted that decommissioning had to be transparent and that the police service was already destroyed under Patten. They demanded pictures of decommissioning as evidence alongside the wearing of sackcloth and ashes rather than the traditional green. It hasn't happened and Paisley is now an emperor without clothes.

One aspect of Paisley's Agreement in particular is raising unionist hackles. This is the section on promoting of the Irish language. Annex B states "The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language".

The Good Friday Agreement did the same but only "where appropriate and where people so desire it".

Now some unionists are worried that their children will have to learn Irish and that their businesses will be forced to produce everything in Irish as well as English.

They feel that a door has been opened a door to the further greening of Ulster.

But the ultimate prize is a better Northern Ireland at peace with itself and with our neighbours. Paisleyism has little choice but to follow through and while legitimate concerns exist about dividing the spoils between the biggest parties, this is but one step along the road towards a better normal society.

We with the generations that follow will face the task of moulding and shaping a new Northern Ireland in ways that can better meet human and environmental needs.

Hopefully we will never again countenance violence as a means of solving human problems or be taken in by the rhetoric of demigods.

October 24, 2006

This article appeared first in the October 23, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News