AP front 1 - 2022

1 May 1997 Edition

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Dear John...

By Mary Nelis

Dear John,

It's difficult to write this letter when I consider all that has happened over the past years.

We had our ups and downs. At times our relationship was superficial but at other times quite intense. Hardly surprising when I look at the fatal attraction, the lust for power which brought us together. And we almost succeeded in making a go of it. The spirit was indeed willing. It was, alas, the flesh that was weak.

As I was pondering the impending nastiness of the parting of the ways, I remembered a cartoon in one of the Irish papers in 1993. It showed you, John, pointing your finger and saying, ``It's the British government's one point plan, we point the finger of blame at everyone but ourselves''. And it suddenly became clear to me that this was an excellent summary of your election speeches which, if I'm honest, is why our affair has finally ended. You look older, John, but you're no wiser.

It's easy to point the finger, to absolve yourself of any responsibility for the violence. You've taken the easy path, John. It's easier to keep things as they are than to take the risks to make peace. It's easy to talk the talk providing you do not have to walk the walk. The Irish people have walked many walks, the famine walks, the emigration walks, the walks to scaffolds, the prison walks, the civil rights walks, the Bloody Sunday walk, the funeral walks. It seems Irish history is one continuous walk, John.

I remember in December 1993 women from Derry and Belfast began a freedom walk to Dublin in support of the peace process. They said they were walking for freedom from violence, freedom to exercise their right to self determination, freedom to begin building a peaceful future for their children. It was a time for peace.

Remember how it was wholeheartedly embraced in Ireland and all over the world as the first breakthrough and a way out of 70 years of the Northern impasse. But for you it was still a time for war. That was a calculated insult to everyone involved and I don't think we recovered, John.

The Downing Street Declaration was a testing time in our relationship, for it put forward the terms of surrender for the IRA to end its campaign, and at the same time reinforced the Unionist veto. It stated clearly that Sinn Féin could only gain political discussions after the IRA declared a ceasefire, though it was most embarrassing for you when the world learned that the British government had been engaged in secret talks with Sinn Féin for years, without preconditions. I think at this stage, John, people were beginning to realise that the problem for Ireland could not be solved with the same thinking that had created it. New thinking was called for. But you were more interested in what people thought of you. Public relations really weren't a priority, John.

But peace does come dropping slow and the persistence of those involved in the Irish peace initiative persuaded the IRA to announce a ceasefire. After all, you had promised to be imaginative. Your response to the ceasefire and the continuing loyalist violence was to condemn those responsible for allowing Sinn Féin representatives to meet in Dublin government buildings, in case it might send the wrong signals to loyalists. That was typical of you.

The fundamental problem for you and the other Johns (Bruton and Hume) within the political establishment has always been that you have been more concerned with containing militant republicanism than addressing the naked power of unionist sectarianism. The other Johns must have seen the shady dealing between the unionists and the Tories, yet their political cowardice allowed the British to back the peace process into a cul de sac, from which it never really emerged, despite the best efforts and goodwill of many genuine people both here in Ireland and abroad.

The final straw for me and those who are concerned with a just and lasting solution to this problem was their pious condemnations and ``I told you so'' attitude when the IRA ceasefire broke down. They must have known that the British government never was interested in peace, yet they assisted in the destruction of the process by refusing to confront them. Duplicity, deception, divide and conquer.

If I have learned nothing from British history in Ireland I know now that the British and Irish elite have more to lose by peace than by war. In the light of this, you leave me no option but to seek another way to reconstruct the effort to end the conflict. In this I know I have the support of the genuine people of Ireland and Great Britain.

Is mise le meas,


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1