By Danny Morrison (for the Anderstownstown News, 29/11)
More details have emerged on the proposals to deal with the issue of trust which has bedevilled the peace process from the very outset. Talks sources suggest that by the end of December General John de Chastelain could report that he now has physical proof that the DUP has put all its sectarian bigotry ‘beyond use’.
In a secret location Ian Paisley has made or will make a video-recorded act of contrition, witnessed by the General and two other independents nominated by Sinn Féin and the DUP. This would open the door to a shadow Assembly in January. Sources say that under the proposals the video would not be shown immediately.
Sinn Féin is saying no deal will be made without a film of Ian Paisley apologising. The nationalist people need transparency, said Gerry Adams: “Any deal must be fair and must address to my satisfaction and my electorate’s satisfaction all the fundamental issues that have blocked progress for so long. We need acts of completion, proof of the sincerity of the unionists and that they have turned their backs on discrimination and triumphalism forever.”
The video of Paisley apologising would be held by the head of the International Commission on Decommissioning until March. Paisley’s film would then go on general release and Sinn Féin would agree to a new power-sharing executive with the DUP.
There is a real danger, of course, of the whole choreography being thrown into disarray should the Independent Monitoring Commission report adversely on the Reverend Ian Paisley’s activities. Just two months ago Paisley made an outburst against ‘Romanist journalists’ for not being truly concerned about his health and actually wishing him ill.
In the film Ian Paisley is expected to apologise for his contribution to the conflict, beginning with his threatened march into Divis Street in September 1964 to remove a Tricolour from the windows of Sinn Féin’s election headquarters. That sparked off rioting in which hundreds of nationalists were injured and scores arrested.
He goes on to express regret for his counter-demonstrations against the Civil Rights Movement which also led to violence; his founding of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers; the death of Jimmy Dempsey in September 1969, caused by his supporters trying to invade Iveagh and Broadway; his membership of the Ulster Workers Council’s committee which organised the intimidation and bloody violence during the UWC strike against power-sharing (the irony!); his involvement with the UDA which provided paramilitary muscle during the second violent strike in 1977; the Carson Trail rallies and middle-of-the-night demonstrations of loyalist firepower; his establishment of the ‘Third Force’; his support for the Ulster Clubs; and his involvement in founding Ulster Resistance, some of whose members imported illegal weapons to kill hundreds of Catholics.
Yes, Paisley says, ‘Sorry’.
If all sides were required to prove their sincerity then the above precondition could be legitimately demanded of Paisley. On the other hand, there are demands which are designed to be impossible or mischievous or designed to stymie political progress whilst laying the blame for failure on one’s opponent.
I can live with unionism being in denial about its contribution to the conflict, either directly or as cheerleaders to state and loyalist paramilitary violence. Patronising as it sounds, unionists need our help, which is why republicans agreed to the amendments of Articles 2 & 3, the Patten Commission, and devolution, among other concessions.
I do not know if the IRA is prepared to allow an act (or acts) of decommissioning to be filmed as transparent proof that the act had actually taken place. I don’t believe that this demand from unionists is legitimate, don’t believe that it is or represents actual proof of total decommissioning.
For that matter, I don’t believe that it will be the end of unionist demands or that it will settle unionists given that it is the political project of republicanism and the trend towards Irish unity which ultimately unsettles them.
Filmed decommissioning only makes sense from the dispassionate perspective of cold logic - lubricating the stalled negotiations so that a power-sharing executive and all-Ireland bodies can be restored.
If a photo or video is taken it will certainly become public and be used by the DUP for electoral advantage and to lord it over the UUP in terms of, “Look what we got and you didn’t!”
Republicans would be even more depressed than Ulster Unionists!
Despite all that Paisley says about not wanting to humiliate anyone, he will parade the photos as the symbol of surrender. However, that satisfaction would be short-lived and a one-off regardless of how many times he hits playback. It would be short-lived against the fresh and daily images of the DUP in a power-sharing executive with Sinn Féin, symbolising and signalling a dramatic betrayal by Paisley of his entire political life, radically changing the political complexion of the North and putting the union on a slippery slope.
But, as I said last week, I cannot see Ian Paisley sitting in government with the SDLP never mind with ‘Sinn Féin/IRA’. (Or has the DUP dropped that phraseology in the past week?) The real stumbling block, as I am sick of saying, is not arms but the politics of power sharing: power sharing - the antithesis of the meaning of ‘Northern Ireland’.