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Former U.S. president Bill Clinton spoke of the finishing the job in Belfast this week. A different era dawns as leadership is lacking on peace process. Photo by: Getty

Could Sinn Fein and Loyalists end up allies in Northern Ireland?

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Former U.S. president Bill Clinton spoke of the finishing the job in Belfast this week. A different era dawns as leadership is lacking on peace process. Photo by: Getty

Belfast: Bill Clinton pleaded with Northern Irish leaders to “finish the job” on the Irish peace process during his visit here this week.

It is a plea I heard from several ordinary people, from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, in a city where the ominous atmosphere of two decades ago has been replaced with a realization that more needs to be done to restore full normality.

Clinton was reflecting a frustration that is evident from talking to community leaders here, that the elusive prize of full enactment of the Good Friday agreement and all that stemmed from it is still out of reach.

The consensus is that the problem lies with the Democratic Unionist Party led by First Minister Peter Robinson, but that Sinn Fein has problems too.

Robinson seems to be in eternal fear of being outflanked on the right by hard-liners, but there is little evidence that is the case.

He seems to lack the moxie of Ian Paisley, who made the tough decisions about sharing power when he had too despite his rabble-rousing past.

It seems there is always another election looming for Robinson, who has failed to display the same leadership citing electoral difficulties.

What is real is the discontent among working class unionists who have not received any peace dividend and who feel the DUP does not speak for them.

Two insiders, both from the nationalist tradition, painted a surprising scenario to me.

There has been a significant increase in numbers of working class loyalists attending Sinn Fein advice centers, creating the startling notion that perhaps Sinn Fein, with its broad working class roots and ideology, is a far better fit for working class loyalists than Robinson’s party.

While it seems far-fetched at first, if you manage to neutralize the constitutional question and accept that a united Ireland is no more likely in the mean term than a resumption of fully fledged British rule then such a scenario might make sense.

Sinn Fein and Loyalists have far more in common on basic employment issues, class discrimination and social problems as has long been recognized.

Generations of left wing political leaders have dreamed of such an alliance, but it has always knocked heads against the harsh reality of the constitutional question.

With that issue neutralized such an alliance becomes intriguingly possible.

On Sinn Fein’s part the recent revelation that hundreds of their “on the runs” had received pardons was an overdue acknowledgement that it may be time to move on from The Troubles.

It doesn’t sit well to be seeking justice on atrocities against your side when an effective pardon has been in place concerning your own side’s suspected acts.

Endless inquiries into past outrages on whatever side have created a culture that seems as consumed with what the other side did back then as the future.

Every side in a conflict has to move on. Look at the incredible rise of Japan and Germany after the war, for instance.

Northern Ireland needs to do so too. It is more than time to finish the job as the ex-president has said. The next generation in the North should not have to deal with the unfinished business of peace.

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