Sunday was a potentially historic day for Northern Ireland.
For the majority of my life there has been major conflict in Northern Ireland. Until recent years it involved people being killed every day in Ulster. Occasionally, this spilled over onto the mainland of the UK with bombings in pubs and shops, mortars in downing street, the bombing of the hotel containing Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party cabinet, the murder of Airey Neave MP and the assasination of Lord Mountbatten. These attrocities were carried out by the IRA Simply put they were fighting for a united Ireland. These nationalists were from a catholic background. Politically they were (are) represented by thy Sinn Fein
Opposing the IRA demands for a united Ireland was the unionist community. Protestant in background, they were proud to be British and loyal to the Queen. They were represented by the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists. The figurehead of this movement for many years was Rev. Ian Paisley.
Paisley is memorable for his opposition of a united Ireland, calling the Pope the anti-Christ and failure to condemn any terrorist action by nationalist terrorism (Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein also failed to condemn IRA murders).
A number of years ago the Bristish government began to secretly communicate with the IRA, through Sinn Fein. Despite persistently saying they would never negotiate with terrorists, this was a new attempt to bring them to the table to bring a lasting peace. Eventually it was announced that for the IRA, the armed struggle was over. Other terrorist movements on both side of the political divide also effectively ended their commitment to violence.
At this point you could be forgiven for believing there would parities in the streets. However, there was such a mistrust in the communities that there was suspicion on both sides. Were people really advocationg peace after years of war? Were the parties really willing and able to work together? The Unionists were insistent that the IRA disarm. Initially a sticking point, the IRA begain to open their arms caches and ensure the weapons were decommissioned. It then seemed that the Unionists then began to lift the bar higher and higher.
Effectively Sinn Fein and the Unionists as the largest political partners in Northern Ireland would have to agree to power share in order to have a government based in Northern Ireland rather than direct rule from Westminster. The latest in a line of demands was that Sinn Fein should agree to recognise support for the police and the rule of law. This was a "big ask" for Sinn Fein for a number of reasons. The Ulster police and IRA had been sworn enemies. This is because the Royal Ulster Constabulary recruited almost exclusively from the protestant community and was anti-catholic. It was seen as a tool of oppression by the IRA.
So why was Sunday a potentially historic day? Well Sinn Fein had an extraordinary meeting to vote on the key issues required by the Democratic Unionists before power was shared.
The vote was unequivocal, the police should be supported and republicans should support the police. Hurrah! Parties in the street? Congratulations from the DUP? Err no. Almost immediately, Ian Paisy Jnr
was engaging with the media saying it was not enough. They could not just say it, they had to prove it. Again the bar had been raised, again there was a delay in the power sharing.
For its own part Sinn Fein had one demand that the police force should be democratically controlled by the future Northern Ireland Assembly. This seemed to me to be reasonable, particularly as the previously the police had such a poor image in the nationalist community.
As I listened to the latst debate on BBC Radio Five Live, I had to admit to being frustrated. My abhorence at what the IRA did is palpable BUT what must happen for people to move forward in peace. One would hope that with the 2 major leaders of the DUP not only being men of the cloth and self proclaimed evangelicals this process should be easier? Are they not committed to proclaiming the message of the Prince of Peace? Surely a hallmark of the Christian church is grace, forgiveness, turning the other cheek? I am sad to say that these attributes seem to be missing when it comes to the struggle in Northen Ireland.
In recent years we have seen majority rule and the end of apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu chaired a commission of reconciliation that ensured a peaceful handover. Following the genocide in Rwanda, the president of that country introduced a no blame policy ensuring that life could move on peacefully.
In simple terms it appears to me that the Gospel of Jesus and examples in the recent past give clear signposts to those in power in Northern Ireland how to move forward.