Northern Ireland Assembly member Ian Paisley Jr. warned the audience at a Feb. 25 Burns Library appearance that his country's peace process could falter, if not fail altogether, unless a harder line is taken against the Irish Republican Army and other proponents of violence - even to the point of excluding them from the new government.
"We've got to try and reduce their reliance on the use of violence for political dividends," said Paisley, a representative of the Democratic Unionist Party and son of Unionist firebrand the Rev. Ian Paisley. "The way we do that is very challenging. The way we do that is by getting the governments to actually have the will to go on without the terrorists ... It's not up to us to bow democracy to the will of terror, it's up to terror to bow to the will of democracy."
If they are unwilling to change, he said, "we must go on without them, until they become like any other political party and join the process on the level playing field like everyone else. If they do that, there will be progress. If they don't do that, if they stay out in the cold, they will become marginalized and must be marginalized.
Ian Paisley Jr. speaks with students during his campus visit on Feb. 25.
"Until that happens, I don't see the prospect of the [peace agreement] leading to a new, better and brighter future."
Paisley's appearance, sponsored by the Irish Institute, drew about 50 administrators, faculty and students. Speaking from the middle of a semicircle formed by the audience, Paisley spoke on recent and forthcoming political developments in Northern Ireland, including the transfer of power from Britain to a power-sharing executive scheduled to take place March 10. Faculty and students also engaged him in a lively question-and-answer period.
Paisley said the United Kingdom is experiencing a major political transition, noting that Scotland and Wales also will have their own parliaments. Unlike those governmental bodies, however, Northern Ireland's assembly operates on consensus, rather than majority rule, he said, which can lead to political stalemate. He suggested a coalition government would function better.
Paisley said last year's Good Friday agreement, which set in motion the establishment of the assembly, has not promoted stability or ended sectarianism. The pact, he maintained, made too many concessions to Republicans and advocates of violence, and undermined the Northern Ireland legal system. He pointed to the schedule of prisoner releases as a major obstacle to the "rule of law" in Northern Ireland, because many of those incarcerated have shown little inclination to renounce violence.
Paisley also criticized efforts to reform the region's police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as further impairing law and order in Northern Ireland. The RUC - now being analyzed by a commission that includes Alumni Association Director Kathleen O'Toole - has already received more independent scrutiny and regulation than most other police forces, he claimed.
Responding to comments on the issue by Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology), Paisley said the reason for the minority of Roman Catholics on the force - one of the chief criticisms leveled at the RUC - was a fear of reprisal from the IRA or other terrorist organizations.
"If we stopped the terrorists," he said, "we'd see a force of 50 percent Protestant, 50 percent Catholic."
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