I find it rather ironic that the final round – no, surely not the final round – of the Northern Ireland negotiations should be taking place just up the road from here in St Andrews. One can only hope and pray that this time there will be agreement. It’s hard to understand the enduring nature of this conflict – in its present phase, it began when I was 18. One thinks of Churchill’s ‘dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone’ speech in 1922. Reflecting on the First World War, he said of Ireland that, ‘the integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions which has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.’
If there is to be agreement this week, the movement which will have made it possible will have come about mainly through the pressure of events which have been inexorably leading towards a settlement. The body language and other language of the politicians certainly gives one little cause for hope. They carry to the table all the anger and hurt of the long years of violence.
I suppose it has to be that way. It would be heartening to hear even a little of the insights of Christian faith – some ‘swords into ploughshares’ language or some hope of healing and reconciliation. But this is real life and it will be enough for most of the people of Northern Ireland to see a pragmatic agreement which makes it possible for people of different traditions to share the same space with dignity and respect and which pushes the possibility of a return to violence even further away. The healing will come later.