Friday, July 29, 2005

Northern Ireland: Peace in our time?

"It's the same old theme since 1916..." (The Cranberries, "Zombie")

Well, that might be changing...

Last night, I wrote a post over at The Moderate Voice on the I.R.A.'s decision to lay down its arms and to pursue a political settlement in Northern Ireland. Since that long post quotes extensively from articles in the Times and the Post, I'll just provide the link here. Go check it out. (And then come back and read some more! Actually, no, since I write at both The Reaction and TMV, I encourage you to read both blogs regularly.)

But let me at least offer some of my commentary:

As a Brit myself (dual citizenship with Canada), I've long wrestled with what to do about Northern Ireland, and, honestly, I've never reached anything resembling a conclusion. Part of me wants Britain to stay and fight for the Protestants who want to remain in the U.K. (and the Protestants are the majority), part of me wants Britain to pull out and give up on Northern Ireland entirely (why insist on holding on to such a mess?), and part of me -- thankfully, the largest part -- wants to see some kind of peaceful, democratic resolution to the decades of violence.

I hope that Blair's right and that "[t]his may be the day on which, finally, after all these false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," but the question still comes down to sovereignty. The violence may end, but what will happen to Northern Ireland? What kind of peaceful, democratic resolution will there be? After all, either Northern Ireland remains within the U.K. or it doesn't. Or, perhaps, it's split in two, just like Ireland is now. But then what?

For now, I think it's important to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. I have friends and family who have lived and worked in Northern Ireland, and I know British soldiers who served there at the height of the "Troubles". Aside, perhaps, for the extremists (who will never be satisfied by any compromise), everyone wants peace. Everyone wants to believe that there could be a non-violent resolution to the question of Northern Ireland's future.

Hope abounds, and rightly so, but we'll have to see just how effectively peace and politics replace war and terror. For if a widely satisfactory political solution doesn't emerge in the near future -- and there simply may not be one that appeals to the extremists and reins them in -- violence could return with a vengeance, sinking Northern Ireland back into bloodshed and hatred.

The will may be there to end the violence, at least for now, but it's not at all clear that this new effort will solve the problem of Northern Ireland.

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