Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Enemies come together because nobody wants to pay their water bill.

By December 2004, Mr Blair was confident the DUP and Sinn Fein were about to go into business together.

But Mr Paisley said the republicans would have "to wear sackcloth and ashes" to atone for their terrorist record, and the IRA robbed pound stg. 26.5 million ($64.5million) from the Northern Bank.

Mr Blair then struck on the novel idea of sending Peter Hain to Northern Ireland to stir things up.

The new carrot-and-stick strategy required the new Secretary of State to become the most unpopular viceroy since direct British rule was imposed on Northern Ireland in 1972.

"Hain the Pain", as he came to be known, oversaw big cuts in local administration and public spending, threatening water charges for the first time in the province. And he warned of the abolition of its grammar schools.

Both measures, Mr Hain promised, could only be averted if the parties agreed on a plan to restore devolution. Mr Adams and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, were ready to go along.

By signing up to the St Andrew's Agreement in October, Mr Paisley claimed he had removed the threat to the province's selective secondary education - but that left the water charges.

That issue was contentious enough among the locals to act as a catalyst for the DUP and Sinn Fein to give serious thought to reaching a deal.

You know politics have normalized when bitter, blood enemies are forced by the voters to work hand in hand over pocketbook issues like water bills. Blair makes up for a lot - by no means all - by how far he moved the Irish peace process.

When people say 'you can't negotiate with terrorists' it's worth noting that one of the most intractable and bloody generational guerrilla campaigns in history was settled by negotiating with current and former terrorists.

The Palestinians may not be ready for a Gandhi but they could use a Gerry Adams. And Israel could use a John Major, a leader who was willing to turn his back on his party's traditional hostility to the IRA and Sinn Fein to secretly accelerate the peace process.

This particular coalition government may spectacularly flame out and sooner rather than later. But they have an incentive to make it work and just the act of coming together of the Sinn Fein and the DUP eliminates a score of political red lines. Even if this government collapsed, the next one would be easier to establish, more stable and easier to maintain.

Even if this coalition collapses tomorrow or in six months it's very existence has advanced civil society in Northern Ireland tremendously.

And all because nobody wanted to pay their water bills.
Until Sunday, Mr Hain was declaring that the water bills were ready to be sent out to homes across Northern Ireland. But yesterday, he announced they would remain unposted.

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