The phrase "peace and reconciliation" bombarded us from the airwaves during the week following the death of John Hume. We were told that, by means of peace and reconciliation he brought about a conclusion to the eight hundred year old "Anglo-Irish Irish conflict"—that was according to the current leader of Hume's Party, the SDLP, on Newstalk.
There is peace in Northern Ireland. There is an absence of war. The absence of war is peace. If more than that is injected into the meaning of the word, it floats off into transcendentalism fuelled by hot air.
The peace, which has now existed for more than twenty years, was not brought about by means of reconciliation, and reconciliation has not resulted from it.
This journal supported the 1998 Agreement because its carefully-designed structures had nothing whatever to do with reconciliation. What this structures provided for was the institutionalised separation, within the devolved system of British politics in the Six Counties, of the two great bodies of people inhabiting the Six Counties, which we called national but Constitutional nationalists preferred to call "traditions".
The Agreement was based on recognition of the obvious fact that the two great bodies of people were entirely stable with regard to each other, and in conflict with each other, and that within the Northern Ireland system there was absolutely no common political ground between them.
Recognising this to be unalterably the case, it established them into two separate electoral bodies, with the democratic principle of majority rule being abolished by a veto held by each of them.
Government departments were to be shared out between them, but not within the structure of a power-sharing Government—a thing that was tried in 1974 and failed.
Unionists and Nationalists were to take it in turn to choose a Department of Government to run. The Departments were then run autonomously, and not as branches of a Government under a Cabinet.
"Reconciliation" did not enter into it, and did not follow from it. It was not characterised by an upsurge of fellow-feeling, but by a steady continuation of the mutual collective animosity that was Northern Ireland's birthmark.
The idea of reconciliation belongs to a different order of things—the domestic order. Where there is a falling-out there can be a making-up. There was no falling-out in the North because there was never any feeling of togetherness in the first place. The two collective bodies were not the result of a ruptured unity. They were separate in origin.
Little incidents of falling-out and reconciling occurred within each of them but never happened between them. John Hume's decisive action might be described as an act of reconciliation within the Catholic community.
He stepped away from the doctrinaire fantasy of Anglophile Constitutional Republicanism preached by Seamus Mallon and supported by the Dublin Establishment, and collaborated with the IRA on the basis of the actual common interest of the Catholic community in making a provisional settlement which enabled the War to be ended in a way that was advantageous to the Catholic community.
While doing so he barely escaped being repudiated by Mallon's followers in the SDLP and by the Dublin Establishment. It could be said that he sacrificed his Party to the common cause. He then handed the direction of affairs over to Mallon to lead it into the wilderness.
Subsequent Southern criticism of Sinn Fein for failing to achieve the reconciliation between the 'traditions' that was supposed to be the purpose of the Agreement only proved that the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael leaderships supported the Agreement as it became an accomplished fact without ever having read it in detail or trying to envisage how it would work. They still refused to engage their minds with the reality of what Northern Ireland was.
The ingenious scheme for egalitarian apartheid in a devolved government has worked well because since 1972 it has not really mattered to the basic administrative functions of the state whether there was or was not a devolved government in place.