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Friday 26 March 2007

Northern Ireland: a curious kind of peace

The women at today’s devolution press conference tell the real story, says Ruth Dudley Edwards .

Understanding what's going on in Northern Ireland requires attention to be paid to the small print and the bit players. When - at the press conference with Ian Paisley at which it was announced that devolution would take place on May 8 - Gerry Adams spoke of working for the good of the people of Ireland, he was reminding unionists that he is speaking of the whole island, which he hopes will soon be politically united.

When he throws in phrases in the Irish language, he seeks to annoy Paisley's supporters, who believe it to be nothing more than a cultural weapon.

Just as deliberately, Adams chose a southern politician to sit beside him. Mary Lou McDonald has nothing to do with Northern Ireland: a member of the European parliament for the Irish Republic, she hopes after the forthcoming general election to have a seat in the Dail, the national parliament.

For his part, when Ian Paisley promised to work for the good of all the people of Northern Ireland, he was pointing out to nationalists that after decades of violence, they remain under British rule and that a united Ireland is a pipe dream.

That he had Arlene Foster sitting just behind him was not just to show that his party too can field a young, attractive woman, but to make it clear to Sinn Fein that they will not be allowed to forget the violence of their past.

Foster, who was brought up in a part of County Fermanagh where local protestants were assassinated by the IRA with grim regularity, is eloquent, tough and unforgiving.

These two parties loathe each other and have no intention of working together constructively: they will however find a way of divvying up the spoils of office and entrenching their stranglehold over their respective tribes. It is a curious kind of peace.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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