Thursday, July 28, 2005

Attitudes to the End

Well, it's come at last, or at least it's in the process of coming: the IRA has at last declared what has been pretty obvious for a while: that the armed campaign is over (the full statement is here: hat-tip Slugger). Which really means that the environment has changed so profoundly, post McCartney and electoral competition in the South, that the IRA has stopped being Sinn Féin's lever for better deals and has become something of an albatross.

Reactions to the news will of course be very different (no matter what the taciturn General de Chastelain will say). That's no surprise. I think many people here have consistently underestimated the gulf between both main communities in terms of what they think drove the Troubles. Colin Irwin, in a 2001 edition of the Global Review of Ethnic Politics, published an article on opinion polls in NI, which included (on page 69) this interesting table:

Very interesting, I think. Catholics, it seems, are more likely to believe that the Troubles were driven by social factors whereas Protestants are more likely to believe that they were driven by security factors. You want to get to grips with why decommissioning is such an important thing for Unionists? Well that's why. The Agreement has never delivered security for them because it never delivered decommissioning. We should not underestimate the degree to which such things matter.

SF has been very successful at shifting the post-GFA situation towards reassuring the Catholic community on the issues that they see as having driven the Troubles, but the Protestants have been left high and dry. Which is why today is important.

Important, that is, if Unionists come to believe that it's really true.

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