December 2, 2003
NORTHERN IRELAND ELECTION 'REWARDED THE
** Northern Ireland voters
dealt a blow to the "fragile moderate center" by propelling Ian
Paisley's DUP and Sinn Fein to victory.
** The Good Friday
Agreement may not be "dead" but is on life support.
** Paisley and Sinn Fein
are now responsible for preventing further political "paralysis."
'The immoderates have bested the moderates'-- British and Irish papers said voters in
Northern Ireland "rewarded the extremes" by propelling Ian Paisley's
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein to electoral victories last
week. "The bad boys and girls of
Ulster romped home," said the conservative Scotland on Sunday. A liberal Austrian daily judged that voters
had "lost their patience" with the peace process and "sought
refuge in simple battle cries."
Ireland's center-right Independent held that moderate leaders
"who took great political risks" to try to ensure the Good Friday
Agreement's success "were punished for their vision, and their
courage." An Australian observer
found it ironic that the moderate nationalist Social and Democratic Labour
Party (SDLP), which had brought the "once illegal" Sinn Fein into the
political process, had been "eclipsed" by it, musing, "That...is
the fate of the peace-makers."
'Three steps back and no steps forward'-- Some writers concluded that the voters had
"finally killed off the Good Friday Agreement." Britain's conservative Daily Telegraph
contended that the "accord has now reached the end of the line" while
a German paper saw the agreement, if not dead, as "incapable of
living" in the current political climate.
The UK's independent Financial Times, though, insisted that
"the peace process embodied" in the agreement "remains the only
show in town." Belfast's moderate,
pro-unionist Telegraph, argued for a "review" of the accord
while another British broadsheet observed that "the situation may be
retrievable, but it will take a lot of hard work and harder compromises to save
the day." In the view of Canada's
leading Globe and Mail, the "stalemate seems set to continue."
'The weight of responsibility' is now on DUP, Sinn Fein-- Editorialists remarked that the real fallout
from the elections "will not be known until the DUP and Sinn Fein put
their negotiating positions on the table."
Critics of the Good Friday Agreement "are now center-stage." There is "no one else to blame" for
further stalemate. Though the DUP and
Sinn Fein are most unlikely partners, an Irish paper noted that "politics
is the art of the possible and both the DUP and Sinn Fein are good at
it." Belfast's Telegraph
said the question was whether the DUP would remain as "intractable"
as in the past, now that it was in the "dominant unionist position"
and if Sinn Fein would "interpret its mandate" to move fully into the
democratic process and break its "paramilitary connections...once and for
all." The nationalist Irish News
speculated that if republican paramilitaries take "decisive steps" to
disarm, "some intriguing political maneuvers could follow."
EDITOR: Steven Wangsness
EDITOR'S NOTE: This
analysis is based on 25 reports from 6 countries, November 28-December 2,
2003. Editorial excerpts from each
country are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "The Rock Of
Unionism Can Still Sink Power Sharing"
Martin Kettle wrote in the left-of-center Guardian held
(12/2): "Last week's
assembly elections--in which Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists elbowed past
Trimble's Ulster Unionists for the first time in an assembly or parliamentary
election--are a landmark setback for Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart,
Bertie Ahern. They have underscored a
lesson that, in one form or another, has been true since at least the time of
Parnell--that every attempt to incorporate Irish nationalist aspirations within
British political institutions will ultimately founder in some way on the rock
of Ulster unionism.... The congenital
optimists take a less drastic view of last week's results. They look at the votes cast and they point
out, quite accurately, that most people in Northern Ireland voted for parties
which support the power-sharing agreement of 1998.... The initiative is with Paisley now, whether
for the aim of renegotiation or of outright rejectionism. It is with him, above all, because of the
IRA's refusal to do and say the things on arms that Trimble and the British and
Irish governments wanted."
The independent Financial Times editorialized (12/1): "Often in the recent history of Northern
Ireland, political developments have been best described as two steps forward,
one step back. Last week's election for
the province's assembly seems to mark three steps back and no steps forward,
with the chances of restoring devolved government to Ulster looking bleak. Yet the peace process embodied in the 1998
Good Friday agreement remains the only show in town--whatever the rejectionists
say. The election results were certainly
depressing for those who hoped to see a new type of politics in Northern
Ireland.... An early recall of the
assembly looks unlikely.... Nor is there
much hope of an early breakthrough in talks between the parties and the British
and Irish governments that would allow the restoration of devolved
government. Creating the trust necessary
for unionists and nationalists to work together in the power-sharing executive
requires the acts of completion in disarming the IRA that have yet to be
made. Republicans in private accept the
war is over, but have failed to keep their part of the bargain in the Good
Friday agreement.... The key to resuming
the forward march of the peace process is clear, but it is in the hands of the
"Tony Blair's Greatest Political Achievement Dwindling
Bruce Anderson commented in the center-left Independent
(12/1): "Mr. Blair's greatest
achievement is in trouble. So are the
people of Northern Ireland. It need not
have been like this. Indeed, there have
been several occasions over the past 35 years when it was not inevitable that
Ulster would take the wrong turning.
Each time, the ultimate responsibility lay with a failure of intellect
and will at Westminster. The same will
be true if the Good Friday agreement eventually collapses. That agreement...was Tony Blair's finest
hour.... However difficult it may have
been to arrive at the Belfast agreement, it was the only one which could ever
have worked.... What a tragedy it was
that [Blair] let everything dribble away to littleness, because he would not
exert his grip.... The spirit of Good
Friday was easily summarized: no guns or else no government. The IRA began to hope that there could be a
third way under which it would stay in Cabinet while retaining much of its
weaponry, all its paramilitary structures and an intimidatory control over its
own areas. The result was predictable: Unionist outrage.... When all this was accompanied by moves to hollow
out Unionist culture by eliminating royal associations and insignia from public
buildings, and especially by renaming the RUC, there was an inevitable
response. The Belfast agreement depended
on the political assertiveness of a strong moderate Unionism. That could not survive repeated snubs and
"Ian Paisley Must Step Out Of The Trenches For The Sake Of
Edinburgh's conservative Scotsman editorialized
(12/1): "The result of the
elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are momentous.... Nevertheless, this result...dreadful as it
seems, needed to happen. For the critics
of the Good Friday Agreement are now center-stage. There is nowhere for the DUP to run and now
no one else to blame.... If the DUP
refuses to work within the mandate it has been given and in so doing creates a
political void which allows an escalation of terror on the streets of Northern
Ireland, it will be an abdication of responsibility on a quite terrifying
scale.... For Sinn Fein, there is a
massive responsibility here not to box the DUP into a corner.... This crisis needs leadership and vision. It needs a recognition that this is now a
battle between those with a vision of the future under the Good Friday
Agreement--with all its undoubted problems--and those with a desire to preserve
the very status quo that has ensured decades of violence and misery.... The people of Northern Ireland want peace and
prosperity. They support the Good Friday
Agreement. That is something the DUP
will eventually have to accept if the peace process is to stand any
chance. The sooner the DUP is forced
into the spotlight to kick-start that debate the better."
"The Buck Stops At The Ballot Box"
The left-of-center Guardian held (12/1): "The people, of course, are sovereign. Their ballot crosses make democracy
tick.... The people can also be
contrary, greedy, hypocritical, astigmatic--and just plain dumb. Take Northern Ireland last week.... What did the people overwhelmingly
want? Power-sharing and self-government
back in action, peace and the process that secures it preserved. So what, on the unionist side, did they
do? Put Ian Paisley and friends top of
the poll. Make it as certain as
inhumanly possible that the assembly they desire will never meet this side of
another election.... Was that
sensible? Readers of the runes can offer
any number of explanations, to be sure. Structural faults in the Good Friday
agreement; feeble campaigning by the SDLP; everlasting feuding within unionist
stockades; mistakes in Belfast and London.
We don't, traditionally, blame electorates when they walk off the pier
with mouths agape. We blame cowardly
politicians or dark forces or crudely inadequate voting systems. The voters themselves are never wrong. Yet, sometimes they are. Sometimes, as here, the outcome they ordain
is simple nonsense, a double negative enshrined in stupidity.... What you don't see is common sense; what you
won't see is progress, just more accidents waiting to happen."
"There May Be Troubles Ahead"
The conservative Scotland on Sunday judged (11/30): "After two days of counting ballots...
all bets seemed off as the bad boys and girls of Ulster politics romped
home.... After nearly six years of
doom-mongering talk and press speculation...the fat lady finally sang on
Wednesday as the voters finally killed off the Good Friday Agreement. Or maybe not.
The situation may be retrievable, but it will take a lot of hard work
and harder compromises to save the day....
The wildcard is Paisley.... This
election shows that SF has made the crucial shift into the hearts and minds of
non-violent nationalism. And the SDLP
will find it very difficult to regain its prominence."
"The Defeat Of Compromise"
Henry Porter wrote in the left-of-center Observer
(11/30): "By choosing to hold an
election Blair created the best possible conditions for the politics of
Protestant alienation and anger to overwhelm those within unionism who still
clove to the possibility of historic compromise with nationalism and republicanism. The emergence of the DUP as the largest
unionist party and the return of much more formidable anti-Agreement figures
within the UUP Assembly group means Sinn Fein's stunning electoral performance
may not ultimately compensate for the destruction of its hopes of a central
role in a northern administration."
"Time For Plan B In Northern Ireland"
The conservative Daily Telegraph remarked (Internet
version, 12/29): "The Northern
Ireland peace process was supposed to be all about moderation and power
sharing. The Belfast Agreement was built on the assumption that giving real
power to Ulster's politicians would force them to work across the confessional
divide, and thus isolate the extremists.
Instead, it is the extremists who have won.... The worst of it is that this outcome was
predictable--inevitable, even. Political
polarization is a direct consequence of the Agreement itself.... That accord has now reached the end of the
line.... Its flaws should now be visible
to liberal-minded people across the British Isles who want a peaceful and
pluralist Ulster. The Agreement has
failed in its own terms. Instead of
encouraging cross-community collaboration, it has driven the two traditions
back on to themselves. Instead of
reviving democracy, it has led to record abstentions. Instead of rewarding moderation, it has
encouraged fundamentalism.... We must
face the truth that Plan A has failed....
What is needed is a Plan B based on devolution to local councils, a
crackdown on paramilitary racketeering and, above all, an accountable
"Ulster Is On The Brink Of A
The tabloid Daily Mirror observed
(Internet version, 12/29): "Yet
again Northern Ireland has returned to the edge of the abyss and is peering
over. Whether it has the good sense to
avoid toppling in remains to be seen....
The prospect of Paisley returning to center stage is enough to give the
world a migraine, let alone his political opponents. Hopes of a swift return to home rule for the
province are now dashed. Hopes of
further movement on a peace settlement along the lines of the Good Friday
agreement are now in free fall. Paisley,
who refuses to talk to Sinn Fein whom he calls 'murderers,' will be rejoicing
at what he sees as a 'great victory.'
But the poll results are what London and Dublin regard as a nightmare
scenario. Why is one step forward in
Ulster always followed by 10 steps back?"
BRITAIN (NORTHERN IRELAND): "Time For The DUP To Show Courage"
The nationalist Irish News commented (12/1): "By holding elections at this most
inappropriate time Tony Blair caved in to pressure from the Irish government,
Sinn Féin, SDLP and the DUP.... Today
unfortunately the SDLP is the biggest loser....
The biggest challenge now faces the DUP.
Until now Paisley took the easy road as perennial sideline
critic.... There could therefore be some
flickers of light at the end of this tunnel but it will prove very difficult
for Paisley to relinquish the strength coming from his outsider position. Rumors abound about vacating the
leadership.... Paisley now hankers after
respectability and political success but after a lifetime outside the camp this
could prove well nigh impossible.
Republicans, whose activities alongside their failure to provide
transparency on decommissioning precipitated this crisis, might help free the
DUP from the grip of fundamentalist obscurantism. This would require courage, particularly on
the part of the DUP--something that until now has been conspicuously
"Polls Apart... Where
The moderate, pro-unionist Belfast Telegraph commented
(11/30): "The DUP is not interested
in 'tinkering' with the agreement, and has criticized Secretary of State, Paul
Murphy, for promising the 'fundamentals' of it would remain intact. And, therein lies the problem. The government will argue that certain
aspects of the agreement--criminal justice, policing, human rights, equality
legislation and an Irish dimension--must stay.
Any attempt to unravel or dilute them would be met with fierce resistance,
particularly from Dublin, Sinn Fein and the SDLP. On paper, Sinn Fein--IRA guns are still a big
issue--and the DUP have a golden opportunity to use their mandates, to push the
process forward. In reality neither, at
the moment, appears willing to create the atmosphere where that can
Belfast's nationalist Irish News editorialized (Internet
version, 12/29): "A return to
devolved government at Stormont is now a central part of republican
thinking. The DUP is equally keen to
take on ministerial responsibilities, but the great irony is that, without an
arrangement with Sinn Féin, this simply will not happen. Although the Social Democratic and Labour
party (SDLP) and the UUP also have a major contribution to make towards this
process, it is inevitable that most attention will focus on attempts to develop
some form of relationship between the DUP and Sinn Féin. The DUP, while hotly denying that it is split
over the issue, has certainly managed to send out confusing signals. If republicans really do take decisive steps
to put their entire arsenal beyond use, some intriguing political maneuvers
could follow over the coming months."
"Agreement Review Central To Progress"
The moderate, pro-Unionist Belfast Telegraph took this view
(Internet version, 12/28):
"Whatever way one looks at it, the outcome of the Assembly election
represents a setback for the political process in Northern Ireland. Today, it is difficult to see how anything
other than a prolonged political stand-off will ensue.... It is clear that the center ground has been
squeezed again.... The question
remains: will the DUP in a dominant
unionist position prove to be as intractable as it was in its days of saying
'no' to virtually everything? And for
its part, will Sinn Fein interpret its mandate as further encouragement to move
fully into the democratic process and break its connections with paramilitary
activity once and for all?.... What
must not be forgotten is that Northern Ireland today is very different from
what it was in 1998 and before. Our
peace may be imperfect but the tide away from our violent past is surely
unstoppable.... The clock can not be
turned back on all of this.... One
answer may be to look at the actual [Belfast] agreement itself.... Whether it is called re-negotiation or
review is a matter of semantics but appears the only path ahead.... The balance of power in Northern Ireland
politics has undoubtedly shifted. But
with power comes responsibility. How the
DUP and Sinn Fein exercise that in the coming days will determine whether
Stormont rule is restored or direct rule perpetuated. The odds, at this stage, lie with the
Election Results Ominous"
The center right, populist Sunday Independent took this
view (11/30): "Last week's results
in the Assembly elections show how far Northern Ireland has come since the
bleak days of the mid-Eighties.... The
change, however, is disappointing, disturbing and ominous. Disappointing because those who risked most
(the SDLP and the UUP) to make a success of the Agreement have little to show
from these results but a measure of public contempt for their heroic
efforts. Disturbing because those who
have gained most in last week's election have given least in ensuring the
success of the Good Friday accord....
The Northern voters, in their wisdom, have passed judgment on the Good
Friday Agreement. In doing so, they have
rewarded the extremes and punished the moderates who saw the accord for the
historic opportunity it offered, and who took great political risks to try and
ensure its success. Last Thursday, they
were punished for their vision, and their courage."
"North's Move To The Hardline"
The center-left Irish Times editorialized (Internet
version, 12/29): "The people of
Northern Ireland have spoken in a sharp and discordant tongue.... The issue now is whether or not the
leadership, coming behind Dr. Ian Paisley, has the vision and the willingness
to engage in genuine dialogue. A new
challenge is posed also to the leadership of Sinn Fein. There are no circumstances which can be
envisaged where the DUP would enter a devolved Executive with the party without
the standing down of the IRA. Acts of
completion of decommissioning would change the whole political landscape. Mr. Gerry Adams has now received an historic
mandate to prove that the political process can produce results.... But the big loser in the election is the Belfast
Agreement.... The real fall-out from the
Assembly elections will not be known until the DUP and Sinn Fein place their
negotiating positions on the table.
Then, and only then, can a determination be made as to whether politics
is, indeed, paralyzed."
"Everything Now Hinges On Paisley"
Frank Millar wrote in the center-left Irish Times (Internet
version, 12/29): "There will be
little consolation for [Prime Minister] Ahern in the knowledge that--in Ulster
Unionist eyes, at least--he and Mr. Blair are equally to blame as they find the
political landscape transformed, the Belfast Agreement paralyzed and a hard
political frost descending.... Certainly
the two governments will be tempted to 'spin' away what has happened and
suggest nothing much is changed in the underlying state of Northern opinion. They would be wise to resist. The facts are the facts. Mr. Gerry Adams has sounded the death-knell
for [the] once proud SDLP [Social Democratic and Labor Party], while the Rev.
Ian Paisley commands the unionist majority.
The peoples of Northern Ireland have spoken and will expect their
verdicts to be respected.... Dr.
Paisley has shown himself a successful leader of the opposition. The question now is whether he can ever be
anything more than that. All past form
suggests the answer will come in the form of that word Dr. Paisley has made his
own. However, the irony is that--should
he surprise everyone with a Yes--it would be at an infinitely higher price than
Mr. Adams was ever prepared to pay for Mr. Trimble."
"Breaking The Mold"
The center-right, populist daily Irish Independent remarked
(11/28): "The emergence of Gerry
Adams as leader of the biggest nationalist party in the North marks a
watershed. The SDLP was the main
casualty.... But with such a democratic
endorsement comes an even greater responsibility. Sinn Fein have scored a
remarkable triumph at the ballet box and now must formally reject the armalite,
abandon the arsenals, and finally emerge from history's shadow.... Ian Paisley's insistence on never supping
with republicans will be tested.... Mr.
Paisley remains a formidable obstacle to progress. But politics is the art of the possible and
both the DUP and Sinn Fein are good at it."
Dietrich Alexander editorialized in right-of-center Die Welt
of Berlin (12/1): "The past won in
Northern Ireland.... The outcome of the
elections is indeed everything but encouraging.... A discourse will now become more difficult if
not impossible.... But the Good Friday
Agreement is not dead; in view of the current political constellation it is
only incapable of living. This is a
difference and times will change. Maybe
people like Ian Paisley must take their irreconcilability with themselves to
the grave in order to give the province a new chance."
Center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich had this to say
(11/30): "This is a deadlock. This election took place in a kind of vacuum
anyway. For more than a year, the
political institutions in Belgrade have been suspended. The province is governed from London, as
always when a crisis breaks out. These
elections were supposed to be the basis for a new attempt and if Trimble's DUP
had kept its position as the third strongest party, this would have even been
possible. But now there will be a London
rule for a long time to come. A
provisional state as a permanent sate, the attempt of a self-government was
only a way station. It is a rather sad
balance sheet we have to take now. The
only consolation, and this is not a small one:
Nobody expects a return to the troubles of the past, to violence and bloodshed."
Right-of-center Fuldaer Zeitung commented
(11/30): "The votes had only just
be counted when Protestant hardliners already spoke of the 'end of the peace
process.' The fatal thing is: they could be right. The election marks a bitter defeat for the
moderate forces, who were always able to find an arrangement despite all their
differences. An all-party government
will now function less than ever before and the return to self-administration
has now been moved into the distance.
The outcome of the election could be understood as an encouragement for
terrorist groups on both sides to implement their goals by using force."
"Bad News From Northern Ireland"
Roland Heine argued in an editorial in left-of-center Berliner
Zeitung (11/28): "Has the peace
process now definitely failed with these elections?… As it looks now the radical parties made
strong gains in the elections and the question must be raised whether, under
these circumstances, a coalition government can be brought about at all. But first of all one thing must be made
clear: the IRA supports the Good Friday
Agreement; the problem is the Protestant DUP whose radical leader Paisley
rejects the agreement but also any kind of cooperation with Sinn Fein. Indeed, a government with Paisley as prime
minister and Gerry Adams as vice premier is unthinkable. But there are indications that Paisley could
be pushed aside by a more pragmatic group around his deputy Robinson. But there is also the danger that the DUP
successes will strengthen those forces in the camp of the Catholic nationalists
who want to see the Good Friday Agreement be declared null and void. Currently we can hope that the majority of
Northern Irish do not want to return to the state of 1998 when terror and
violence were 'normal' on the streets of Northern Ireland."
"Blair's Pile Of Debris"
Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg
observed (11/28): "It is all the
more frustrating now for Prime Minister Blair to be faced with the debris of
his efforts to create peace in Northern Ireland. The outcome of the regional elections is
moving an end to the Northern Irish conflict even farther into the
distance.... It would have been wiser to
postpone the elections until a breakthrough in the peace process would have
been achieved. But mainly in the camp of
the IRA, there is no willingness to contribute to a settlement of the
conflict. For more than a year, Northern
Ireland has been placed under the direct administration of the British
government after the coalition government of Catholics and Protestants failed. After these elections, this will not
change. The frustrating fight for peace
Straight For The Blind Alley"
Foreign affairs writer Martin Alioth wrote in liberal daily Der
Standard (11/29): “The Northern
Irish voters have spoken: over five
years, they have been watching with increasing impatience how lengthy
compromises were made and how clean hands got dirty during the process. Now the people have finally lost their
patience and sought refuge in simple battle cries. For over forty years, the Reverend Ian
Paisley has played the part of the spirit that denies. He and his rabid Democratic Unionists’ Party
have never said or done anything constructive.
But after this election, Paisley, at the evening of his life, is finally
the triumphant head of the largest party in Northern Ireland.... It has always been the question whether the
fragile moderate center of Northern Irish politics would be able to withstand
the strain of a complex peace process.
Now we know the answer. Those in
Northern Ireland who stayed at home last Wednesday have a lot to answer for.”
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
"Peace-Makers Take Hit In N. Ireland Poll"
The conservative Australian editorialized
(Internet version, 12/2): "On the
face of it, the swing to hardline politics in last week's assembly elections in
Northern Ireland has derailed efforts to cement the relative peace prevailing
in the British province.... Britain and
Ireland have immediately plunged into post-election talks with the main parties
to try and save the 1998 Good Friday agreement.... They must now impress on the hardheads that
further economic progress depends on a political settlement, even if there has
to be adjustment of the Good Friday process....
Despite this, the election result also gives Britain and Ireland the
chance to corner the militants, now that the weight of responsibility for peace
is on these two parties. The election
has been a huge disappointment for the two moderate parties that backed the
Good Friday deal, the Northern Ireland Unionist Party led by David Trimble, and
the republican Social Democratic and Labour Party, led by Mark Durkan. The SDLP in particular brought the once
illegal Sinn Fein in from the cold, only to be eclipsed by it last week. That, for the moment, is the fate of the
peace-makers, as the province enters another period of confrontation."
"Paisley Says No"
The leading Globe and Mail commented
(Internet version, 12/29): "The
Northern Ireland stalemate seems set to continue. While this is certainly preferable to the
killings of Protestants and Catholics that preceded the 1997 ceasefire by the
Irish Republican Army, it pales beside the prospect of a successful
power-sharing assembly envisioned by the 1998 Good Friday peace
accords.... Now the immoderates have
bested the moderates.... How bad is this
news? Consider that nothing will go
forward unless the DUP and Sinn Fein talk to each other. Rev. Paisley made it clear this week that, as
far as he is concerned, the DUP will not work with the political wing of a
militant group infamous for its past terrorist acts. It is a measure of Rev. Paisley's volatility
that his DUP colleagues kept him away from the cameras as much as possible
during the run-up to the vote. But on
Thursday night he was his fiery public self, buttonholing a reporter to say,
'Anybody that talks to Sinn Fein will be out of my party.' Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul
Murphy, will attempt to get all sides talking this weekend. More than ever, he has his work cut out for