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December 2, 2003

December 2, 2003





**  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, " 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."


"Irish Stew"


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 republican movement."


"Tony Blair's Greatest Political Achievement Dwindling Away"


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 disillusion."


"Ian Paisley Must Step Out Of The Trenches For The Sake Of Peace"


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 Executive."


"Ulster Is On The Brink Of A Nightmare"


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 lacking."


"Polls Apart...  Where To Now?"


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 happen."




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 latter."


IRELAND:  "North's 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."


GERMANY:  "Stubborn"


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."


"Fatal Vision"


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 will continue."


AUSTRIA:  "Heading 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.”




AUSTRALIA:  "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."




CANADA:  "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 him."


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