By Fr Des Wilson
Dealing with unionists, as some of our patient elected representatives are doing at the moment, is difficult for a number of reasons.
For one thing, unionists, as has been pointed out here a number of times, do not keep their word. While you negotiate in order to change that attutude, in the end they have to be made to do what they have promised. Only strong government can bring them to that point. The duty of the London government is clear. It has to say that after the election those entitled to take part in government will be invited to do so, and if they refuse to take their governmental positions then the party next in line will take those positions.
In this way, justice will be done, unionists will not be forced to take seats in government which they do not want and if after some time they decide to take their rightful places then they can do so. Blair must be strong enough to say this and Ahern must be courageous enough to insist on it.
What pressures can SF and SDLP put on London and Dublin to get to this point? They can insist that Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution be put back in place. This can be done - and must be done - by a simple act; it would not need a new referendum in the south. Also, the voters should take a case to the European courts. We are entitled to an election, but if you allow people an election and take away the effects of it then you have denied their right to election. We have the right not only to have an election but to have an effective election, otherwise we have no election rights at all.
Efforts have been made to reduce the voters lists in this coming election, so desperate are the London and Dublin governments to produce their own results rather than the results wished for by the voters. But even with all that the elections should take place and when that is done the elected representatives who believe in democratic processes should make new electoral regulations which will ensure that it is the voters' results and not the administration's results that must be accepted.
In these ways the difficulty of unionists not keeping their word can be overcome.
The second major difficulty is one which we have noticed often. Unionists do not have negotiating skills. One reason for this is that they never had to negotiate about anything. Another is an attitude which tells them that if they even talk to people they are losing. Whereas most business people and many others realise that talking is a way of getting the best available deal. It would be impossible for unionist business people of this kind to negotiate about prices, for example. They will state a price and fail to do the negotiating work while others better able to negotiate will come in and take the business. This has already happened - unionists have lost more businesses than enough, and you have only to look at Belfast's Royal Avenue to realise the extent of their business failures. You walk from Tesco and Debenham at one end to Tony O'Reilly at the other with scarcely an important local commercial venture left to us in between.
In any case, unionists always had a London administration paying for their indolence and mistakes. Ireland's northeast has been so reduced that people cannot believe the depths to which we have sunk by waste, inefficiency and loss of productivity. What is wrong with the various institutions and businesses is not just ingrowing dislike of other people but an appalling failure to use resources. Unionists are no business people, which is another way of saying they cannot look after their own interests, let alone the interests of others.
Blair, as was pointed out for some years, is a disaster for his own people as well as ours. His interest is to make sure no more bombs explode in English cities and to keep his political position. He wants to secure the future of his Labour Party not by vital new policies but by pleasing the power groups which are already there. That is what he is doing in Britain, that is what he is doing in Ireland. And it is dead policy.
If he can achieve this and at the same time render unionists and republicans and nationalists as well as the Dublin administration powerless over their own political future he will have achieved his purposes in Ireland. He must not be allowed to do this. Articles 2 and 3 must come back again and we must assert that after more than 80 years of trying no solution proposed by London can succeed. We have tried often enough.
Now the time has come once again for all the Irish solutions to be put on the table - accompanied only as an equal by the London solution - and we then negotiate with the clear understanding that there are sanctions for those parties which refuse to negotiate in a mature way.
It will quickly appear that neither in the DUP nor the other unionist parties is there a team which can negotiate in a mature way. There is neither the tradition nor the practice for it. However - and this is something people have yearned for during all these years - once the London administration stops its unquestioning support for them and Dublin insists on principle rather than softness for a change, then contact with competent and principled negotiators may induce both politeness and negotiating skills in the unionist community. It may even help to reveal such skills that have not been given a chance to appear up to this time.
And meanwhile, if some intellectually competent unionists would show impatience with their present leadership this would help both them and the rest of us.