Peace politics get perverted on the Emerald Isle

A string of disappointing scandals has stalled an already overdue Irish peace process.

by Ashley Dresser

For three years now, after living abroad in Northern Ireland and studying their slow, sputtering peace process, I have been convinced that a fresh turnover in leadership on both sides is what is needed for success. As it stands today, the people who were blowing up the place 20 years ago are the same ones trying to hack out the finer details of the devolution deal, reached in 2007, that shifts power from Britain into the hands of Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament. Consequently, every couple of weeks or so, old grudges resurface and tempers flare in the form of immature commentary. Just this past December, BBC reported on Sinn FéinâÄôs First Deputy Minister Martin McGuinnessâÄô warning that if the Unionists and Republicans (Sinn Féin) did not reach an agreement over the transfer of justice and policing powers âÄî the last piece of the power-sharing bid âÄî by Dec. 25, Northern Ireland would be moving from âÄúa very serious situation to a full-blown crisis,âÄù to which one Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Member of Parliament replied, âÄúSurely Sinn Féin knows by now that setting arbitrary deadlines for anything in Northern Ireland is a recipe for not getting it done by the deadline.âÄù Right on, lad. If that doesnâÄôt sound like a bid of confidence for the future of politics in Northern Ireland, I donâÄôt know what does. Way to galvanize your people. But it gets worse. Over the holidays, along with record snowfalls, fell unprecedented scandal. First, the niece of famous IRA member and Sinn Féin politician Gerry Adams appeared on TV to announce that her father, Liam Adams, had repeatedly raped her as a child. This confession later prompted Gerry Adams to disclose years of emotional and sexual abuse by his father and to call for his brother to turn himself into the police. In keeping with their centuries-old game of tit-for-tat, the Unionists came out with their own whopper only a few days later. It was revealed that the wife of DUP First Deputy Minister, Iris Robinson, had an affair with another man. Mrs. Robinson is a 60-year-old evangelical Christian with a 40-year-old marriage and a seat in Parliament. Her lover? A 19-year-old school boy who she was âÄúhelpingâÄù after the death of his father to cancer. Aside from consoling caresses, she gave him $80,000 in secret loans to finance the start-up of a café near Belfast. This is the same lady who apologized with the statement, âÄúLove the sinner, not the sin,âÄù after she made a series of abominable remarks toward homosexuals in 2008. Loving the sinner, Mrs. Robinson, is clearly a practice youâÄôve taken a bit too seriously. When I made the claim that the only way to achieve peace in Northern Ireland is by ushering in a younger generation, I was not referring to near-pedophilia. And if you can sense my frustration, you can only imagine the frustration of the Northern Irish. The pubs are packed, the apathy is high and both Republican and Unionist victims of the past conflict are rolling over in their graves. With the moral character of both sides tainted, a permanent peace in Northern Ireland feels further and further away while its abusers remain in power. When I lived in the north and my agony over bearing witness to their daily squabble became too much to stomach, I would make the pilgrimage to GiantâÄôs Causeway âÄî a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site just short of Coleraine âÄî to remind myself that Ireland didnâÄôt always used to be like this. Ireland used to be a nation full of clever kings, fairies and giants. The UNESCO site is a series of hexagonal, basaltic brown rocks that stretch out mysteriously into the sea. From its farthest point, you can see the coast of Scotland. The legend goes that Benandonner, the most celebrated giant in all of Scotland, wanted to fight Finn McCool, the best hunter in all of Ireland, so he built a causeway of rocks to the coast of Northern Ireland. Yet when Finn McCool heard Benandonner was coming, he dressed up like a baby and put himself in a crib in his motherâÄôs house. When Benandonner came knocking, FinnâÄôs mother told him that Finn was in the south, but he was welcome for a cup of tea and to meet âÄúFinnâÄôs wee brotherâÄù who was really full-grown Finn himself. Benandonner took one look at the baby and was so scared by the bulk of him that after imagining Finn to be twice that size, he went running all the way back to Scotland, ripping up the causeway as he went. Thus, the cleverness of an Irish Finn McCool saved him from a terrible fight. Centuries from now, I picture my friends telling their children a different story, with a slightly seedier brand of romanticism: âÄúThere once was a gay-hating old woman who liked young men. She took a big pot of gold from someone elseâÄôs rainbow and gave it to a little boy. Then there were some other people who played fairy games with children, but basically, thatâÄôs why the Red Hand of Ulster still exists in Northern Ireland today.âÄù Maybe IâÄôm naïve; maybe the real cleverness of the Irish is their ability to bull—- and the real reason Finn McCool was dressed up like a baby is because he was trying to seduce his foe. The point is that IâÄôm modifying my message to the Northern Irish politicians: Forget about youth outreach, itâÄôs time for you to grow up. ItâÄôs not just that the tiny little country of Northern Ireland is depending you but that the whole world is watching because we know that Northern Ireland is one of the few countries that has long held the palpable potential for a permanent peace. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected].