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Tuesday 27 March 2007

A historic day — but for all the wrong reasons

Most people in Northern Ireland will have been sick and ashamed yesterday at the sight of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley doing their contemptible deal.

There was no absence of fine rhetoric as these two malign figures - sitting beside each other for the first time in their terrible, destructive lives - spoke about their commitment to serve all the people (of Northern Ireland in Paisley's case; of Ireland in Adams's). But rhetoric is all that it was.

Having achieved primacy within their respective tribes, each wants power and patronage for themselves alone: they will work out a way of splitting power - not sharing it.

Northern Ireland will settle further into a sullen, angry, political apartheid.

All those who voted for the decent parties - Alliance, SDLP and UUP - are revolted that the future is being handed over to two sets of bigots who loathe each other.

There is, of course, much happiness in Number 10.

Tony Blair now has reason to hope that he will still be able to go out on a high, his global legacy as a peace-maker immortalised in photo-opportunities.

Peter Hain will be celebrating mightily too, convinced that his reputation as the man who made Paisley and Adams speak to each other will help him in the contest for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

Hain has been the most crass, insensitive and cynical secretary of state ever endured by Northern Ireland, but it has to be admitted that he delivered to his Downing Street master. No principles or scruples have troubled him.

His high-handed behaviour has thoroughly alienated the voters, making them think that even a DUP/Sinn Fein government would be less objectionable.

Paisley's hand was ultimately forced because Hain made it clear that he would implement a series of decisions anathema to Unionists - such as destroying the highly effective grammar schools and imposing high water rates - unless the DUP agreed to devolution. The DUP and the electorate decided to give in before Hain began slaughtering the first-born.

Just before the victory parade begins, here's a short trip down memory lane. Back in the early 1960s, when the prime ministers of Northern Ireland and the Republic met to discuss how to work constructively together, it was the young Paisley who roused the loyalist rabble by frightening them with popery and the IRA.

It was Paisley and his mobs who provoked violence at civil rights parades in 1968, and it was Paisley who would destroy every Unionist leader who wanted to reach an accommodation with nationalists.

The IRA would become his unlikely ally by giving Protestants plenty of reasons to fear their Catholic neighbours. The IRA turned Northern Ireland from being dreary, suspicious and bigoted into a complete hell-hole.

More than 3,700 were murdered and hundreds of thousands were traumatised. The republican contribution was to kill almost 2,200 (including the majority of the Catholics who died). The wickedly maligned security forces - of whom more than 1,000 died - killed only 360. And along the way, Adams's party destroyed constitutional nationalism.

Yesterday was a historic day all right - but one in which there is no joy for men of good will.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards