Twenty-five years ago, leading commentators in the Dublin media argued that peace in Ireland could only be achieved by excluding all those on the political extremes.
Leave the ‘security situation’ to the ‘moderates,’ they advised, for they know best. Ireland’s national broadcasting service RTÉ was banned from featuring supporters of Sinn Féin, the IRA or other
Republican groups, even if the subject had nothing to do with the Troubles. Most media commentators endorsed that policy or acquiesced silently.
When those same commentators discovered a few years later that John Hume of the moderate SDLP party had been talking to Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, they were horrified. Hume was lambasted, vilified and denounced from Dublin’s media pulpits. How could he even give the time of day to ‘terrorists’ who ‘caused all the problems’ in the first place?
That was 1990. In the two decades since, we have passed though one of the most revolutionary phases of our nation’s history:
• The early Hume-Adams talks in Belfast’s Clonard Monastery widen to include Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and the British government, leading to the 1991 Downing Street Declaration that Britain has no ‘strategic interest’ in holding on to Northern Ireland. Dublin commentators go gunning for Reynolds whose government soon folds;
• President Bill Clinton takes a courageous initiative in overruling the visa ban on Gerry Adams entering the United States. The historic visit opens a three-way process that brings America into the equation as honest broker. Clinton is denounced by horrified Dublin media commentators;
• The IRA declares a ceasefire, soon followed by the Loyalist paramilitary groups. The Dublin media decries any prospect of amnesty for political prisoners;
• Talks about talks, then proximity talks lead to active negotiations under US Senator George Mitchell involving all political interests. This brings about the Good Friday Agreement. That’s it, agree Dublin media gurus, a chance to wash our hands of that northern business and get rid of the extremists for good;
• The Agreement leads to power-sharing, growing mutual respect across community and political divides, and it draws the political extremes into democratic politics. The Dublin media take on the role of ‘doubting Thomas’ poking every wound they can find;
• The RUC, designed from the outset as armed guardians of Unionist power, is replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, while Crown justice in Northern Ireland is now vested in the people. Dublin media gurus say nationalists should have backed the RUC;
• The IRA decommissions its entire arsenal under international supervision and commits Republicans exclusively to democratic politics. Dublin media commentators declare themselves sceptical of IRA disarmament, yet remain silent on guns still being used by loyalists;
• Citizenship arrangements under the Good Friday Agreement bring news that almost half a million new Irish passports have been issued to people in Northern Ireland. The Dublin media gurus continue to act as if they have nothing whatsoever to do with the south.
• The St Andrew’s Agreement clears up outstanding issues and leads to the creation of a Northern Ireland governing executive headed by erstwhile ‘extremists’ of the Democratic Unionist Party under Rev. Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Stormont team led by former IRA leader Martin McGuinness. Dublin media commentators predict it won’t last long;
• Paisley’s leadership ends and Peter Robinson steps in alongside McGuinness. Dublin media gurus savour the prospect of hardline Robinson ending the relationship because this will bring back the ‘moderates’;
• Martin McGuinness is welcomed worldwide as an inspiring ‘peacemaker’; his views are sought on how the Irish peace model can be applied elsewhere. The Dublin media commentators wish it would just go away and stop bothering their Celtic Tiger success;
• Martin McGuinness condemns dissident Republican killers as ‘traitors’ and joins Robinson and other Unionists in the cortége when GAA members bear the coffin of a young Tyrone policeman from a republican family. Dublin media falls silent, temporarily.
• Martin McGuinness is presented as Sinn Féin’s candidacy for the presidency of Ireland. Dublin media commentators are furious, insisting he is ‘unfit’ for office because there is no proof that he, the IRA, or anybody outside their own closed circle has moved on from the violent past!
*Daragh MacDonald is a writer and editor since 1970s in Ireland and in Ontario, Canada (1987-1997). He is the author of three books – The Sons of Levi (fiction, 1998); The Chosen Fews: Exploding Myths in South Armagh (non-fiction, 2000); and Blood & Thunder: Inside an Ulster Protestant Band (non-fiction) as well as a newspaper editor.