Orange Card dealt again
This week may turn out to be one of the bleakest we have faced in this peace process. Despite the immense strides that have been made since the IRA cessation of 1994, the Good Friday Agreement being the most significant of these, the unionists, backed by the British government, are even now prepared to plunge the entire process into chaos.
Silent guns are not enough for the unionists. They also want their pound of flesh, in the form of `product', before they will assent to finally share power. The `No surrender' brigade will settle for nothing less than an IRA capitulation, which, as that organisation said this week, will not happen. The IRA did acknowledge the importance of resolving the weapons issue, but the unionists at this stage are intent on their `all or nothing' strategy. Their move to secure the suspension of the Agreement is one last dealing of the Orange Card and unfortunately, the Labour government appears all too willing to go along with Trimble, Taylor et al.
It took the loyalist Ulster Workers Council strike to collapse the Sunningdale executive in 1974. Republicans were not exactly unhappy at its demise, given that it was set up to exclude and isolate them, but compare then with now.
Harold Wilson's Labour government cracked quickly under pressure from unionist/loyalist gangs across the Six Counties. But Tony Blair has had to cope with no such protests. There is no demand from the streets for the collapsing of the institutions and the suspension of the Good Friday Agreement. That Agreement enjoys the overwhelming support of the people of this island, as expressed at the ballot boxes. All there is to pressurise Blair and Mandelson is David Trimble's arbitrary demand for IRA guns.
It is time for Tony Blair and David Trimble to reflect on what has been achieved and on the potential for progress provided by the Good Friday Agreement. They must also reflect on the dangers presented by the political vacuum that lies on the far side of suspension.
Or can they really, to misquote John Donne, tread so lightly into that dark night.