You will be able to knock me down with a feather if any Government
in the foreseeable future secures a political settlement in Northern
Ireland bringing real and lasting peace, including an end to baseball
battery and kneecapping as well as killing. The Protestants/Loyalists
are not going to permit a united Ireland and the murderous variety of
Republicans are not going to settle for anything less.
This leaves two questions. How much longer will the Loyalists’
assassination squads permit Tony Blair to kiss Sinn Fein/IRA’s boots?
And are the majority of Republicans prepared to demand their terrorists
play a peaceful waiting game until they can secure a majority, by
outbreeding Protestants, for an Emerald Isle with a single government?
On present evidence you are more likely to catch CJD from BSE beef - an
infinitesimal risk if one at all - than see peace in our time in
Northern Ireland, even if 30 years’ civil war has brought only
So what on earth is Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam doing
negotiating with convicted killers of both sides behind the curious bars
of the Maze prison? And what are the PR implications of a move naively
hailed as courageous?
The truth is that Mo Mowlam is caught up in an ever more desperate
attempt to shore up the ’peace process’. This carries the Government
rapidly from one extreme to another - from Mr Blair’s shamefaced
meetings without cameras with the IRA’s front men in Belfast and in No
10 to Ms Mowlam’s infamous trip to the Maze. The end - peace - comes to
justify the means, especially as the talks show is still on the
The danger is that this attitude will spread and that soon almost
anything will be excused in pursuit of what is felt to be a higher good.
If it does, it will infect national life because the Government’s
example exercises a powerful influence over public attitudes.
Until May, ministers were expected to set an example. Now Foreign
secretary Robin Cook, author of a moral foreign policy, can get away
with running off with another woman whereas previously even obscure Tory
junior ministers were hounded out of office for no better reason than
John Major wanted to get ’back to basics’ in education. The only outcome
of this, not to mention the activities of Paymaster General Geoffrey
Robinson and Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine, will be an unenviable
Government reputation for monumental hypocrisy.
It is in these circumstances that PR people earn their keep. If we are
in the reputation business, then we have a clear duty to warn our
principals about the longer term consequences of their actions. And
negotiating with convicted terrorists in a democracy serves only to