Posted By: December 17, 2013

Fionnuala O’ Connor. Irish News.( Belfast). Tuesday, December 17, 2013 IT TOOK no time at all for talk about the chances of the ANC surviving unchanged to replace the mourning of Mandela.
Those boos for President Jacob Zuma in front of the outside world hardened up the idea that proper tribute to the departed father of the nation would be to clean up his party, with best estimates settling on gradual splintering, internal critics coming into the light, perhaps even the development of a replacement for the hitherto shameless ANC.
Clear-out talk is logical upon the final removal of the single unifying figure, venerated well into retirement and partly because of that retirement, as above politics.
The spectacle is a reminder of how far this place is from any such watershed. It is still not possible to say “how far we are” because there is no “we”.
There are no big figures whose departure might enable or inspire any kind of renewal. Maybe no harm in that. The notion of the “big man” saving the lesser people around him is hardly a fit prescription for the 21st century, if only because it disregards the female half of the population.
Ian Paisley loomed very large indeed, but chiefly because his bullying presence diminished further the other unionist leaders of his day.
Then he signed up to a deal he never made the least attempt to sell to his people, and in short order got the chop, with a helping of ermine and Lords flummery to blunt it. Flattery and furbelows did nothing to dissuade him from post-retirement squibs at his successor. Remember the jeer about Icarus when the Robinson parliamentary earnings drew unflattering attention?
The old man’s carping peeled no sector away as an anti-Robinson splinter.
What lingered was the sour after taste of spite, pettiness, a measure of how irrelevant the once Big Man had become. The disappearance of John Hume through illness had none of the distasteful connotations of Paisley’s dethronement. Hume left more of a vacuum, by a long way, and the SDLP’s implosion has been an embarrassment to itself and onlookers. Sinn Fein’s future may be foggy, their rise in the Republic an internal distraction for the organisation from their inability to make a mark in Stormont. But Sinn Fein will continue to take the bulk of northern nationalist votes, if largely for want of better.
The Dail party remains shadowed by the inability of the south’s political class to come to terms with post-Troubles republicanism, the lasting presence inside “their” tent of those some still see as “subversives”, their leaders killers in suits. Martin McGuinness has some stature left. The stature of Gerry Adams has been shrunk by fate, his own clumsiness and above all by ceaseless rubbishing.
Hard not to mis-speak and lose your footing in a clamour of booing.
The Troubles stammered to a halt, the daily bloodshed of the 70s segueing into less frequent but still apparently endless killing.
After the stalemate of the late 80s came the tension of negotiations, disguising how modest the architecture of the aftermath would be. Vindictive late killings spoiled any chance of potential celebration. Blatantly futile violence has been replaced by a narrow political world, Sinn Fein stymied and seemingly baffled by the sheer immobility of the DUP, the Paisley party’s unchanged inability to tell their supporters the hard facts of sharing.
No matter how piffling the politics it is still always worth remembering how bad the bad years were, how blessed the lacklustre present. But where is regeneration is to come from?
Back in 2005, alarmed by the Northern Bank robbery and what it said about republican cynicism and the limits of their commitment to towards dissolving the IRA, and towards democracy, one skilled backroom negotiator made the unnerving observation that from the first ceasefire in 1994 to 2005 was as long a period as between the Irish civil war and De Valera becoming taoiseach.
The Provos could “hardly complain that they are being railroaded, or will get the bends from the speed of it all.”
The hope for what an end to violence might accomplish, as negotiations ended, had been that over time the main parties would draw in others, become more widely based.
Those negotiations ended 15 years ago. Small sign of any such process, unless it turns out to be NI21, the Basil McCrea-John McCallister vehicle.
Dispiriting, not desperate. Who ever promised us a rose garden?