The First Word:
A Little Boy’s Cry
“Hushed be that sigh, be dry that tear,
Nor let us lose our heaven here…”
– Richard Brinsley Sheridan
On a plane to San Francisco a young couple sit across from me with two boys. The younger one is kicking up a ruckus. As I reach for my ear-plugs I hear the wife say something to her husband, a trendy fellow with glasses and an earring. “Big Ian” she calls him. Belfast, I think to myself. The accent is that of my sister-in-law Elaine. That this family is from Northern Ireland somehow makes the commotion the wee kid is creating more bearable. His tantrum-red face makes me smile now.
Someone once said to me that a catastrophe is when a child gets hurt. There have been many Northern catastrophes in the past 30 years. How blessedly normal this cranky toddler is. How minor his “troubles.”
Two days before, I attended a lunch in Washington, D.C. honoring George Mitchell. As he often does, Mitchell referred to his young son, Andrew, born during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. For the first two years of his life Andrew shared his father with the people of the North. Was his daddy there when he first rolled over? Probably not. Most likely he was immersed in his role as chairman of the talks. There can be no doubt that without Mitchell’s patience and commitment the outcome would have been much different. “He babysat us,” is how a senior member of one Northern party put it.
Was it worth the sacrifice? It will be, Mitchell says, if one day he can sit quietly in the back of the Assembly with his son and watch the politicians argue about issues such as tourism, fisheries, and roads. Peace will not be talked about, it will be taken for granted.
Anne Cadwallader writing in this issue brings us up to date on the latest developments. The news is hopeful. The Assembly has been restored. The elected officials can concentrate once again on providing services for the people. Martin McGuinness can focus on his role as Minister for Education. His recent visit to Harlem’s Edmund Rice High School resulted in its twinning with a school in the North. Taking students outside the narrow confines of their own school yards to interact with children from different backgrounds is surely a way forward.
Northern politicians over the years have all stressed the welfare of the children. Indeed, whenever I find myself alarmed by something David Trimble says or does, I focus on a photograph of him holding his young daughter that ran on the front page of the Irish Voice. It reminds me that he is a father as well as a politician.
Things are returning to normal in the North but there is still one more change that is vital to the continued peace. The Patten Commission on policing was agreed to by the two governments, British and Irish. Unfortunately, the police bill which the British government is likely to put through is a watered down version of the report. A New York Times editorial of May 30 said it all when it concluded that “Parliament needs to make the police bill truer to the Patten recommendations. A durable peace in Northern Ireland will require not only the kind of political changes that are developing but also a change in powerful institutions like the police.”
Gerry Lynch, a member of the Patten Commission, spoke recently at a National Committee on American Foreign Policy meeting in New York. He said, “It is my fear that the legislation proposed cannot possibly lead to the creation of a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole. If that is true, then this whole peace process will, once again, come to a halt and the cost in lives and in terms of growth of the economy is simply enormous.”
I look down at the sturdy lad standing in the aisle beside me. Maybe little Ian will grow up to be a policeman. Maybe his job will be directing traffic and controlling crowds at soccer games, maybe the kids in the neighborhood will look up to him. Maybe riot gear and plastic bullets will be buried in some vault. Maybe…if the politicians put aside their fears and see that a properly constituted police force that respects the rights of both traditions is key. ♦