Presentation will be the crucial factor in Northern Ireland peace

I have always regarded the Northern Ireland peace process as a necessary sham. Now that it has amazingly come up with an agreement, one part of me wants to cheer; another warns me that euphoria could soon turn to tears.

I have always regarded the Northern Ireland peace process as a

necessary sham. Now that it has amazingly come up with an agreement, one

part of me wants to cheer; another warns me that euphoria could soon

turn to tears.



Meanwhile, the tome enshrining the agreement will be the subject of

intensive spinning. The island of Ireland - both sides of the border are

to have a referendum on the concordat - is to be given the

presentational works.



Everything, including President Clinton, will be thrown into the battle

for people’s minds - or more accurately their votes. The objective is a

noble one. It is literally to give peace a chance and make it more

difficult for the men of violence to start adding alarmingly to the

3,249 death count after 30 years of viciousness. No one, of course,

expects the random or selective killings, maimings and beatings to stop

entirely. The terrorists have yet to be weaned off their

hoodlummery.



But presentation - a respectable political tool - is now to have its

chance to help lead the Irish out of a dead end. As one who received a

letter bomb at his home, I see massaging them back to democracy as

infinitely preferable to trying militarily to contain their murderous

instincts.



But, to be successful, the presentation of the arguments has to be

rooted in reality. It is therefore important to be clear why we have

reached this point.



It is because of the enduring perseverance of British g overnments and

latterly the application of John Major and Tony Blair. This has made the

saner elements in IRA/Sinn Fein realise that they have won next to

nothing from their 30-years war and the more intelligent Unionist

leaders to recognise that a sort of peace might be secured at the modest

price of some inevitable power sharing. Don’t expect their spin doctors

to acknowledge this in their campaigning.



But that is what got them round the table. It is what kept them

talking.



And it is what stopped them running away when George Mitchell, the

American conciliator, and the British and Irish Governments came up with

their heavily presentational package. It has, indeed, pulled off the

three card trick. Can it now come up with the ace?



Having got this far, you can’t write off its chances. Of course, if all

sides sign up to the agreement, they won’t campaign for a ’Yes’ vote

because of what anno domini has taught them. They will wrap it up in

talk of stepping stones and opportunities. Yet already it is implicit in

the ’it’s your choice’ slogan now appearing in Ulster - the choice

between the continuing futility of terrorism and the possibility of

something better.



As every PRO knows, timing is of the essence. It now looks as if time

has been the great teacher in Ulster. Can it now become the great

healer?



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