The Government risks its reputation by excusing wrongs

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.

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

death.



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

road.



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

undermine democracy.



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