When I was about ten, my I found myself standing outside in a car park on a cold day soaking wet and wearing nothing but swimming trunks. The location was Wyndley Leisure Centre, and we were outside because of a ‘bomb scare’. My first job was in Birmingham city centre, and bomb scares were a routine part of life in the city that had seen the terrible pub bombings.
As I became politically aware, I wanted to understand what motivated people to rain such mayhem on the British population – and read about the history of the ‘troubles’. I concluded that while it was difficulty for an Englishman to truly understand the depth of feeling on both sides, it would only every be resolved by the ballot box and by both sides being able to have a dialogue. Churchill’s famous quote about ‘jaw-jaw’ being better than ‘war-war’ comes to mind. But for many years, the idea of dialogue seemed a forlorn hope – each side holding such deeply entrenched bitterness which just got worse with each sectarian outrage.
So how great is the news today that the DUP and Sinn Fein will finally be working together to bring long-lasting peace to the Province. Unthinkable as it may have seemed for so long, dialogue has won out over violence. I hope that we have finally consigned the troubles to the history books – and that the ordinary people whose lives have been so blighted in the past can look forward to happy, peaceful lives.
As we ponder Blair’s legacy, I have heard his supporters point to the Northern Ireland peace process as one of his achievements. I take this with some salt, as the process was begun by John Major – and only an insane Prime Minister of any party would not have carried it forward.
But if Northern Ireland has proved that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, what on earth was he thinking when he invaded Iraq?