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Sunday 29 August 2004

The mandarins are baffled by every shade of Orange

HERE'S an interesting paradox. 

Gerry Adams could not sell the republican movement a deal with the DUP that involves the Reverend Dr Ian Paisley being First Minister, yet the only person who could sell the DUP a deal with Sinn Fein is the Doc himself, who covets the job. 

The Wishful-Thinking (otherwise known as Anglo-Irish) Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs daydreams about a different scenario: Rev keels over, Peter Robinson takes command, reveals a lust for power so raw that no concession is too great, clasps hands with Gerry on the Good Friday Agreement without making a big fuss about the IRA, embraces Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister, makes a speech about vision and trust and a new dawn and off everyone walks into the sunset applauded by their happy followers. 

I've wondered for years why so many of our able and highly professional diplomats appear to lose their marbles when they get involved with Northern Ireland. 

It was our geniuses who pushed the unwilling government of John Major into making peace with the extremes rather than (as in South Africa) from the centre outwards, who let the IRA dictate the nationalist agenda, who took against Trimble because he persisted in behaving like a unionist, and who then, under republican pressure, bullied the malleable Brits into holding an unnecessary Assembly election last November which the office cat could have predicted would result in disaster for the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party. 

"Never mind," murmured our mandarins, as the DUP and Sinn Fein partied. "Ignore the rhetoric. They'll compromise, and it's good news really because they'll be able to deliver." 

Now I freely admit that there are people in the DUP who would sell their loyalist grannies into slavery in exchange for a ministerial job. And I equally freely admit that by settling for what they could have had 30 years ago - the opportunity to help run Northern Ireland on behalf of Her Majesty - republicans have shown that their grannies can't sleep easy in their beds either. 

What's more, I'm not in the least surprised that both the DUP and Sinn Fein have been practising elementary ballet over the past few weeks. Adams and Robinson each showed off in speeches and articles their mastery of the demi-plie (bending the knees as far as possible while keeping both heels on the ground). 

Jeffrey Donaldson, who defected from the UUP last January, was dispatched to not one but two summer schools (McGill and Parnell) to try out his new DUP pumps. He showed his mastery of the turnout (legs rotated outward so the feet point in opposite directions) by propounding a line indistinguishable from that of David Trimble while denouncing him and even essayed a pas de deux with Mary Lou McDonald. 

So far, so good. 

In Iveagh House, in the 'Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles (All is for the best in the best of possible worlds)' Division, they are all practising en l'air - movements where the working leg is raised up high. 

Well actually, in their case, both legs; they need their feet off the ground to avoid facing the fact that ballet is not an art-form favoured in the DUP heartlands, where they prefer marching in formation down the middle of a road to fancy footwork in tights. 

However, the DUP rank and file do believe they can rely on the Doc - a man who thinks line-dancing sinful - to keep his trousers on. 

The Doc is no mug, he knows what's going on, he wants to die as First Minister and he is not incapable of movement. Indeed he has frequently demonstrated an ability to change his mind, and many a time has shouted "About-turn" as his followers reached the top of a hill. Still, his politically unsophisticated electorate see him as an unwavering man of principle. 

In negotiations, the four contenders for the Doc's crown (Robinson, Donaldson, Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell), will be doing pas de chat (legs in the air in diamond shape, in the dance of the four cygnets from Swan Lake), but the Doc will be reassuringly obscuring their movements by standing in front of them shouting "No Surrender". 

Even if his party perform the grand jete (a long horizontal jump starting from one leg, doing a split, and landing on the other leg), the Doc may still be able to convince the voters that no impropriety has taken place. It is just conceivable that if he announces he's brought the rebels to heel and as First Minister will keep them under control, he could be believed by most of his own people. 

But the problem is he'll also be believed by republicans - few of whom are dim enough to think that having Sinn Fein playing second fiddle to a roaring bigot is a triumphant outcome to 30 years of hell. Solutions on a postcard, please. To Iveagh House.  

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards