Thought-provoking lessons from N. Ireland and Spain
Democratic Unionist Party chief (DUP) Ian Paisley
Two of Europe's longest-running separatist insurgencies - the
Northern Ireland conflict and the often bloody revolt in Spain's Basque
region - are once again in the news with developments in both theatres
of contention showing a slowing down of their respective
In Northern Ireland, Democratic Unionist Party chief (DUP) Ian
Paisley has strongly denied reports that the DUP agreed with British
Prime Minister Tony Blair on a date to transfer policing and justice
powers to the region's administrative mechanism in which the chief power
contenders in Northern Ireland, the Protestant-dominated DUP and the
Catholic-associated Sinn Fein, headed by Jerry Adams, have been
attempting over the past few years to share power harmoniously.
The fitful nature of the conflict-resolution process in Northern
Ireland points to the daunting nature of the issues at the centre of the
simmering rebellion. One such subject is policing and law and order
maintenance in Northern Ireland. This has been a very hot bone of
contention between the DUP and Sinn Fein. The DUP has been traditionally
for a continuation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), which has
been in charge of law and order maintenance in the province and is very
much a symbol of British authority and power in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein, on the other hand, has been for disbanding the RUC, which
it has been accusing of power abuse and human rights violations over the
years in Northern Ireland and has been calling instead for what it
considers is a less oppressive law and order enforcement mechanism which
would be more sensitive to Catholic concerns. Thus, policing and law
enforcement has proved a stumbling block in the Northern Ireland
conflict containment effort.
A more equitable law enforcement body in which both the Protestant
and Catholic dominated groups could have balanced representation seems
to be the answer to this conundrum.
Policing and the administration of justice has always proved
contentious in intra-state conflicts of this kind on account of the
potential it has for abuse and misuse of power. Groups which have been
exercising hegemonic power within states prefer to have monopoly control
over law and order and policing powers, because the latter resources
could be used to perpetuate the status quo. Rebellious groups, on the
other hand, would seek to appropriate such powers because it would
enable them to change or modify the status quo in their favour, for the
key to substantial control of the State is the coercive capability that
comes along with control over a state's armed services and police.
Therefore, a prolonged tug-of-war between the Protestant and Catholic
groups could be predicted, given the very knotty nature of these issues.
However, continuous dialogue between the parties could yield to a
mutually-acceptable power-sharing formula, as is happening in closer to
Meanwhile, in the Basque region of Spain, the years long conflict
resolution effort is coming under fresh strain following renewed acts of
terror, allegedly carried out by the rebellious ETA.
A recent air port bombing which claimed a number of lives is one such
act. This development has led to a polarization of political forces with
the new Socialist government seeking the cooperation of the opposition
to forge a broad front against terror. Spanish public opinion in the
main seems to be favouring a no-talks - with-terrorists policy and even
King Juan Carlos is on record as calling on the country to close ranks
against terror. This could have the result of not only deeply dividing
the polity but of also stifling the peace process, because not all
sections of Spanish public opinion favour a no-talks policy with ETA.
Generally speaking, it is advisable to keep the talks process going
in conflicts of this kind, despite violence and terror because a
complete breakdown of communication between the antagonists could lead
to a congealing of internal divisions.
This must be avoided at any cost if the conflict resolution effort is
to move along.