Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Peace in Ireland: The Value of Compromise and Michael Collins

The new First Minister of Northern Ireland Ian Paisley spoke today of the value of compromise on a day that was marked by the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland government with participation of all the principal shades of Orange and Green.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said in Belfast: As we step from this place of history, we must be resolved that this should be the last generation on these islands to feel the anger and pain of old quarrels. We know the unique and delicate balance that binds this process together. Our task is to protect and nurture what has now been achieved.

Eighty-six years ago, on 22 June 1921, when he opened Stormont, King George V said: “I appeal to all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget and to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill”.

It has taken a long-long time.

The Irish revolutionary Michael Collins knew the value of compromise and negotiated with British Prime Minister Lloyd George while the leader of the first Irish government Eamon De Valera, sat in Dublin keeping his options open.

What was agreed in the Treaty of December 1921, was not what was expected by those who believed that the then British Empire would accept military defeat and the mass migration of Protestants to the mainland.

In 1921, control of the White House and Congress in Washington D.C. had passed from the pro-Irish Democrats to the Republicans. Besides, the rallying cry of "burn everything British but their coal," hardly made economic sense.

At the end of the decade, the worst Depression since the dawn of the industrial revolution began.

In August 1922, Michael Collins (1890-1922) was shot dead in his native West Cork by the dreamers, some of whom got involved when the war with the British was over.

Collins had singular courage in fighting war and then agreeing a peace. Such leadership is indeed rare.