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17 April 2003 Edition

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Ambiguity: Oiling wheels of progress

If there is one big lesson coming out of the peace process over the last ten years, it is words like 'certainty' and 'clarity' are not part of the creative lexicon that conflict resolution requires if it is to be successful.

Can anyone point to a period over the last ten years when such words were used and they helped the peace process here?

Words like 'clarity' and 'certainty' are part of the fundamentalist's political dictionary. They derive from an arrogant mentality, which assumes legitimacy and moral superiority.

Demanding such words causes crisis and paralysis. They clog the peace process engine up with gunge. They box people into a corner. Pursuit of such words or their equivalent encourages intransigence by those seeking their use and by those burdened to produce them.

They imply a 'deadline' mentality to solving political problems. There is no deadline when it comes to making peace.

How does a deadline work when you are trying to build new relationships, political and personal after hundreds of years of conflict?

At what point can republicans say to the British government we are 'clear' and 'certain' about your intentions? Will we ever be able to say this to the British this side of waving them goodbye from Belfast's dockside?

Are we to stay our hand in terms of developing the peace process until we are provided with 'certainty' and 'clarity' from the British government about: policing, demilitarisation, truth about the use by them of loyalists to kill nationalists, to mention only a few issues on which they have failed to deliver.

And what of the unionist parties? Do we sit on our hands while we demand from them and get with 'clarity' and 'certainty' acceptance that their sectarian policies from 1921 until 1972 created 1969, the modern IRA and the subsequent war?

Do we refuse to talk to loyalists because they have refused to provide us with 'clarity' and 'certainty' when it comes to their arms?

At what point do we draw breath and say 'Ah yes we have finally arrived at a station of 'clarity' and 'certainty'? Is it ten years, twenty, thirty? Is it when the relatives of those who were killed or injured during the conflict have passed on, when the events of the last 30 years really are history and can be treated dispassionately?

It is a guessing game. And while we are trying to work it out, the situation which requires stability and forward momentum begins to unravel and deteriorate.

Those who are making the word demands should ask themselves the following questions. Did the IRA's cessation of August 1994 emerge from a clear and certain background? Did it collapse 18 months later against such a background? And what of its re-emergence and maintenance since August 1997?

The same arguments also apply to the loyalist's ceasefires.

All of these developments took place in the mist of uncertainty and a lack of clarity.

How could it be otherwise?

War, of course, has its certainties: people killed, families traumatised, gaols bulging with young people.

There is nothing like walking in a cortege behind a person who has been killed because of the failure of politics to concentrate the mind. There is plenty of 'clarity' and 'certainty' in a graveyard.

That I can do without. Give me the language of ambiguity. It has served the people of this country well over the last ten years. It has oiled the engine of the peace process. Long may it continue to do so.


An Phoblacht
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