In the North this week, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been arrested and is reportedly being questioned for 17 hours a day about the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville in 1972.
It was a notorious and indefensible murder and it is certainly the authorities' right to do this, no one is or should be above the law.
But the timing and intensity of this pursuit should be remarked upon, as should the seriously consequential ways in which it could reverberate unpredictably in the nationalist community in the North.
There are dark forces on both extremes who have never accepted the compromise.Now may be their last opportunity to destabilize and destroy.
Critics claim that allegations against Adams rest on evidence that is 42 years old. They claim his accusers are dead and cannot be cross-examined. They claim that those who made the allegations against him were political enemies with a motive to undermine him. Their claims are a bracing reminder that in the North the truth is rarely pure and never simple.
It is not entirely intemperate to wonder about the emphasis placed on the pursuit of Adams when so many others are ignored. There are multiple relatives for justice campaigns that have not found the support of political parties or the general public north and south. Their anguish has not been widely countenanced nor have their requests been seriously pursued. What was their particular failing? Would the prospect of strong election returns have been a greater motivation?
Already critics are suggesting that holding Adams, an acknowledged architect of the peace process and one of its key supporters, could undermine republican trust in the impartiality of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and even of the Assembly itself. The danger of these perceptions taking widespread hold cannot be sufficiently emphasized.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein is scheduled to contest European and local elections in the North later this month, where their increasing vote share alarms longstanding critics appalled by the possibility of it becoming the largest party in the assembly by 2016.
In the republic Sinn Fein could also win as many European parliament seats as Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael party in the forthcoming European elections, according to a recent survey in the Sunday Business Post. That prospect utterly appalls many within Ireland’s political establishment.
To protect their respective political hegemonies, critics say, the political forces in the north and south have different but compelling reasons to try to curtail the rise of Sinn Fein.
Harpooning its leader in a fall from grace would almost certainly end his career and significantly damage his party.
But in pursuing their own parties' individual fortunes and defending the principles of their electorate north and south, I wonder how much the forces ranged against Adams now are prepared to risk of the security and principles of other people, fellow Irish people in far away constituencies that their actions could seriously endanger?
There is compelling reason to think very hard about where we find ouselves this weekend. Not everyone remembers what it felt like to be stopped by a British Army foot patrol on lonely country road in the dark of winter in the 1980’s. It might be instructive to recall. Back then, at the height of the Troubles, those military patrols could pop up unexpectedly anywhere.
On your way back from a dance or a mass or after a night out with your friends you could find yourself under the gun. The transition between what you were doing and where you suddenly found yourself could make your head spin.
For most of those who lived through it the memories are indelible. The torches, the submachine guns, the black berets, the questioning, the tension in the pit of the stomach as your car slowed down.
Those British soldiers could look so out of place on the narrow Irish roads they patrolled, and they were often so young they looked like they’d dressed up for a lark. Even their accents were howlingly foreign, which could make them even more threatening, not less so.
“You were at a dance, eh? Did you meet any nice girlies? Did you have “the Craic,” eh boys?” Their questions could betray boredom or aggression or mockery. They were not your friends and they didn’t want to be. The sheer strangeness of people from another country telling you where you could and could not go in your own one never really lifted.
Being innocent wasn’t a proof against mayhem; it wasn’t a proof against anything. Everything could unravel so quickly. It still could. Because war comes with a price attached, and so does peace. As we continually learn in Ireland, even democracy and economic solvency can come with a painfully high price attached too.
We know this from the plays of Friel, McGuiness and O’Casey. We know this from having had our fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy in 2008, when it cost the Irish taxpayer 30 billon Euros just to stave off financial chaos.
So I’m fascinated by the unequal way that our outrage can get parceled out once another big bill comes due. Like most things in life, how you feel about this undeniably grave threat to the peace process seems to depend a great deal on where you stand.
It seems to me the majority of people grandstanding on this issue have lived far away from its center. They may have forgotten or never appreciated just how hard it was to win that peace.
They may not remember the hard bargains that were struck to make it stick. They may not like the idea that peace does not always arrive with justice, or that living with that brutally hard compromise may be better than the alternative.