Today is Good Friday and it’s exactly nine years, ecclesiastically speaking, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10th April 1998, a process that was boycotted by the DUP and Ian Paisley was heckled by loyalists at Stormont after the agreement was signed.
Who, then, would have envisaged a situation where the DUP would emerge as the leading Unionist party, where Ian Paisley would be First Minister-designate or, most spectacularly, he would be having last Wednesday's very publicly cordial meeting the Taoiseach at Farmleigh and delivering that extraordinary statement?
If the nationalist community in the North, and we in the South, needed a confidence-building measure from the DUP then surely Ian Paisley's visit last Wednesday was it in spades.
Let's hope that Gregory Campbell and Nigel Dodds start singing from the same hymn sheet as their party leader.
Much of the long delay in implementing the Good Friday agreement has been caused by the tactics of Sinn Fein and the IRA who sought to avoid meeting key obligations at every turn. They have been forced, slowly but surely, to decommission IRA weapons and latterly to recognise the legitimacy of the PSNI.
Republicans abandoned the armed struggle, not because of moral considerations or a dawning abhorrence of violence and murder. Rather it was a pragmatic decision taken after calm and measured analysis which convinced them that they were more likely to achieve their ultimate goal of a united Ireland through political rather than military means, and that the armed struggle was now retarding their advancement on the political front.
The problem with such pragmatism is that in five, ten or 20 years time, should this analysis become discredited, there is no "moral" barrier to prevent republicans taking another pragmatic decision to return to the bomb and bullet.
Sinn Fein must take another confidence-building step to reassure the unionist community of their bona fides as committed democrats. Elected Sinn Fein MPs must take their seats in the House of Commons and represent all their constituents properly. Currently, unionists electors in Sinn Fein seats have been deprived of their constitutional rights to representation in Parliament by this ongoing Sinn Fein boycott.
If de Valera could take the oath of allegiance, then so can Messrs Adams and Co. It will certainly expose Sinn Fein to some abuse from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland. That is a price Mr Paisley has clearly been willing to pay.
Footnote: The section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Independent. & the Irish Examiner.
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