An Historic Image

Gerry Adams and Iam Paisley at the same tableFor someone who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, a mention of the city of Belfast conjures up memories of bombings and sectarian violence. As a Canadian teenager, my only real involvement with the “Troubles” was through the media reports we saw on TV. What we saw from our TV screens were two sides in an intractable battle where it seemed neither side was able to even approach the position of the other. In that time of open UDF and IRA hostilities, the idea that Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein (the political arm of the IRA) might sit down at the same table as Ian Paisley of the Ulster Resistance (the political arm of the UDF) was unthinkable, at least not without the two of them engaging in open warfare.

And yet, today in Belfast, at Northern Ireland’s Legislative building Stormont, Adams and Paisley sat peacefully together to sign a historic power sharing deal. The simple fact that talks were able to proceed at such a high level, and that Adams and Paisley are willing to put aside decades of not just bad blood, but literal murderous hatred for each other’s ideologies, is remarkable enough in itself … that the meeting is to sign and announce a deal to share power between Catholic and Protestant factions to govern Northern Ireland in peace is almost unbelievable when you look at where these two men were just a few short decades ago.

And the picture we see above puts the lie to a myth thats been circulating lately regarding terrorism and how we deal with it. “We can’t negotiate with terrorists” is a common refrain from the US with regards to the Islamic terrorism thats going on in the world, and its an excuse to continue the direct military assaults that have so far mired the west in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a look at the Northern Ireland situation shows that terrorist problem was solved specifically with negotiation. The hard-line policies of the Thatcher governments gave way to more backroom discussions with both sides in the Northern Ireland conflict, first with John Major, and then later with Tony Blair, and the string of successes which started with both sides publicly declaring a ceasefire continued through discussions, rather than military confrontation.

When people say that negotiating with terrorists cannot yield positive results, point at the picture above. Those two men, in the middle of the 80’s, were as bitter of enemies as Bush and bin Laden are today. They each battered and abused the other side, and while both men were part of their respective “political” wings, both men also strongly supported their paramilitary wings and the terrorism they wrought. Were it not for negotiation between Adams and Paisley, with the British Government as HONEST broker, Belfast would still be a bombed out mess today. Instead, it was the sight of a historic agreement between men who would have just as happily killed each other 20 years ago. If thats not an uplifting way to start a Monday, I don’t know what is.

The above image is borrowed from the story on the Adams and Paisely meeting and is used here to illustrate an historic meeting …


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