Friday, April 07, 2006

A strange week

It's been a funny old week even by Northern Irish standards. A Prime Ministerial visit and the Denis Donaldson murder, yet the resounding soundbite of the week is Ian Paisley saying his grandchildren would be slapping him in the face (and jumping all over him, and not obeying a word he said). OK, he was talking about his 80th birthday bash, but it just shows what he can let people get away with.
Paisley's party's reluctance to lead a cross-party devolved government is clearly fraying the nerves of the British and Irish governments, and they've set a deadline which they say they'll extend (meaning it's not really a deadline). Anyway, from the utterances at Navan Fort yesterday, if November comes and Paisley's still humming and hawing they'll put Northern Ireland under joint sovereignty. In a carefully weighed response to journalists' questions, twistmeister Tony Blur gave the strongest indication yet of what many, myself included, have believed his true intention to be. Naturally the Taoiseach was smiling because Ian Paisley - the greatest blocker to progress and integration of the British-Irish on this island - is being pushed well and truly up against the wall by his own Prime Minister. I hope the pressure works and Ulster is being run by Ulstermen and women in 2007.
The vicious murder of Denis Donaldson (the Sinn Féin official who was a British mole for 20 years) seems to have shocked no one. In Republican circles, such folk are the lowest of the low, shunned and reviled, yet two things are being overlooked.
One is that, barring the slim possibility of state-sponsored James Bond antics, he was clearly murdered by Republican terrorists. Whether the crime was committed by a breakaway group or by mainstream IRA men acting either under orders from the IRA Army Council or as renegades it can't control, we are reminded that - despite fine words - Republican extremists haven't lost their taste for murder and their own brand of 'restorative justice'. 
The second is that, whatever Donaldson's 'crime' against those who share his culture, death robbed him of the opportunity, in time, to be rehabilitated. His revilers will recoil at that suggestion, yet it is always the aim of a Christian society. We don't have the death penalty (even for murder, let alone assisting constitutional security agencies) because advanced western civilisation is built around the belief that every life is precious and everyone should be given time and space to come to a realisation of the harm done, and make restitution. Obviously, for some, this was too good for Denis.
Yet another life wasted. But we move on. Despite our differing political opinions and cultural preferences, every day brings opportunities to listen, learn and show respect. As the Assembly comes together for what will certainly be a protracted process of to-ing and fro-ing in its efforts to get a cross-party executive most of us can support, I hope Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams in particular can rise above their differences to give us what we all need.


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