Peace processes and complacency

Published in Editorial, Issue 6 (November/December 2016), Volume 24


On the face of it, the recent decision of the Colombian electorate to reject a peace deal drawing a line under 52 years of armed conflict with FARC guerillas—albeit with the slimmest of majorities, half of 1%—was extraordinary. What was even more extraordinary was that 62.56% of the registered electorate didn’t bother to vote. Hubris rather than complacency best describes the attitude of the leaders (on both sides) who were, before the poll, anticipating possible Nobel peace prizes!

This is of more than just academic interest to Ireland. Former tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is EU special envoy to the Colombian peace process, and parallels had repeatedly been drawn with our own Good Friday agreement. The recent passing of another Nobel laureate, former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords with the PLO, illustrates the pitfalls of such complacency. (Critics pointed out that Peres was the architect of much else besides—the 1956 Suez war, Israel’s nuclear programme, illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, etc.) Just because a peace process starts doesn’t necessarily guarantee a happy ending.

Thankfully the Northern Ireland peace process has devevoloped (and from more or less the same starting point in the early 1990s as Oslo), but that too is threatened by complacency (if not hubris). Its well-being obviously played no part in the calculations of the UK’s Brexiteers. The EU is part of the scaffolding of that delicate structure. Now that the UK has opted for a ‘hard Brexit’, will it survive its removal? At least now we have an inkling of what the British negotiating position is and that the exit process will start in March 2017.

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