The ghost of the gunman

“If the word ‘No’ was removed from the English language, Ian Paisley would be speechless”. Famous words from one of Northern Ireland’s veteran peacemakers: former SDLP leader, John Hume. These days, now that the bombs have all but stopped and the Peace Process makes its final excruciating lurches towards conclusion –it was ever the dotting of the ‘I’s and the crossing of the ‘T’s, posture and ceremony, that proved the most obstinate road blocks- these words begin to fade.

Of course, most of us at Warwick are of student age, born in the Eighties or even early Nineties. Unless directly affected by the conflict in Ulster we are a generation that has only the vaguest recollection of the tragedies and outrages that once filled news bulletins. Does the average Warwick student even know who Ian Paisley is? My enduring chagrin is the familiarity we have with the IRA without caring to condemn also the perpetrators of loyalist violence. Both Paisley and Hume are spent political forces now. Sadly though, the enduring truth of the quotation still lurks on. Swap Paisley for Robinson, the current Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, and nothing much seems to have changed at all.

September brought the end of the IRA. In fact, as Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams puts it, ‘the IRA left the stage some time ago’. The International Monitoring Commission (IMC) not only gave the IRA a clean bill of health last year, but reported on September 3 that the IRA’s Army Council was inactive, and hadn’t the resources to emerge from its dormancy. The IRA is dead. The verdict was welcomed by both the British and Irish governments, welcomed by Sinn Féin, even elements within Unionism, and by the public at large. Not so Peter Robinson and the DUP. Alas, Paisley’s usurper has clung to his party’s traditional refusal. When the Stormont Assembly met in 2007, it appeared that the success of Sinn Féin pressure vis-à-vis the decommissioning of IRA weaponry had pushed the DUP into a corner. Paisley, for all his faults, at least realised the number was up, and entered into Power Sharing. Nothing more was said of bombs. The tourist industry crept like vines into the city of Belfast, and Northern Ireland dropped from the news in a hail of bread-and-butter issues. After all, talk of water charges is boring.

And yet September’s IMC report has pushed the panic button in the DUP, and jolted them back into familiar patterns. The result seems to have been a step back from the progressive politics the party dabbled in during 2007-2008’s power sharing. He claims that for the Army Council to exist in any form, no matter how moribund, is entirely unacceptable, whilst making for his part half-hearted attempts to bring the numerous loyalist paramilitaries out of the cold. Of course, it will be a happy day when the IRA doesn’t exist in any form, but in a de facto sense that day has already arrived. Robinson continues to hold aloft the tattered emblem of the IRA, absolving his party from true commitment to peace and change. But the shadow of the IRA gunman is now a ghost, fading fast from our minds as the IMC performs the last rites. The DUP cannot hide behind ghosts; the future, and the hopes of Ulster citizens, lies ahead, not in the past.

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