Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, by Paul Bew

Second paragraph of third essay ("Modest Realities Lurk behind All-Embracing Rhetoric of Document", published in The Times on 23 February 1995):
The Framework Document meets none of Sinn Fein's demands for a timetable for withdrawal. Yet, most unionists were angry yesterday, and the impression persists that the government may have miscalculated. How has this happened? The core belief of Ulster unionism is clear: "It is better to be separated from the rest of Ireland than from Great Britain". There is a definite implication: unionist politicians are unlikely to make major sacrifices to bring about a local assembly if the price is to give Dublin an unacceptably large role in the north. Hence yesterday's proposal for a northern assembly will not, in itself, calm unionist fears about the content of the document.
I've known Paul Bew since I was 13; he was a colleague of my father's at the Queen's University of Belfast and succeeded him as Professor of Irish Politics. This is a collection of his newspaper and magazine articles (as opposed to academic publications) from 1994 to 2007, the year in which he became a member of the House of Lords. (He is now the Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, having previously chaired the Committee on Standards in Public Life.)

These pieces very much reflect the times in which they were written, and also noticeably shift to reflect the perspective of Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister David Trimble at the point where the author was closest to him in the early 2000's (and then back away again after Trimble's defeat). But what really interested me was to be reminded of how far Northern Ireland has come, an important perspective given the gloomy current situation; 25 years ago, when the first of these pieces was written, the terrorist campaigns of both sides remained in full swing, and there was no perspective of a DUP/Sinn Fein-led power-sharing government (and even though that arrangement collapsed in early 2017, both parties stipulate that they want it restored).

It's also a salutary reflection that in those days, it was the Dublin government which was still getting to grips with the reality of Northern Ireland, and Westminster which had an in-depth knowledge, as opposed to today when the British establishment has retreated to absurd superficiality and it is Dublin that is keeping its finger on the pulse. (Officials from both Northern Ireland and Scotland tell me that they are getting more and better information about Brexit from the Irish government than from London.)

All of these essays have dated, in that they were very specific descriptions of the latest political developments, written for a literate but not well-informed audience. But they are well-written and clear, and useful for anyone wanting to track how we got from the chaos of 1994 to the settlement of 2007. You can get it here.

This was the shortest book left on my shelves of those acquired in 2011. Next on that list is Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory, by Deborah M. Withers.
Tags: bookblog 2019, world: northern ireland
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