Apparently it means (for the umpteenth time since the IRA ceasefire of 1994) that devolution will return, and a functioning parliament will sit in Belfast. As usual, an election was needed to remind everyone of their starting positions (Protestant: can't really stand the idea of sitting down in peace with Catholics but will hold nose and do so anyway; Catholic: still droning on about how abandoning any hope of a united Ireland any time soon is somehow a 'victory' that will lead to a united Ireland).
The election saw mostly rabid Protestants elected by the Protestant community and mostly retired Catholic gunmen and bombers elected by the Catholic community.
Still, they did it, whatever it was, is and will be. In the above photo, you see sitting at center, the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, notorious 300-year-old Protestant hellfire preacher-cum-politician, who has shady links to Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
[NOTE: Bob Jones University had or has a ban on inter-racial dating amongst students — need I say more? Actually yes: it was also the site of a key George Bush speech during the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign, important in sealing a deal with right wing American Christian voters, that George was their candidate who would deliver a) a federal ban on abortion and b) a federal ban on same sex marriage, or at very least, a decent round of fag-bashing rhetoric. It is now 2007 and George Bush has not delivered either — even his fag-bashing rhetoric turned out to be a bit limp. If you ask me, Bush's claims to be a Christian are therefore about as convincing as Cheney's claims to be human — but Bush got the votes to stay in power for two terms, so I guess a few broken promises is the least of his concerns].
Paisley more than anyone else helped propel Northern Ireland into the 35 years of sectarian violence called the Troubles, by whipping up anti-Catholic bigotry during the late 1960s, when Catholics, inspired by the civil rights movement in the U.S., started their own civil rights movement. He has continued to be a reactionary old bigot all these years, but does so with a remarkable ability to blend it with a sense of humor and a twinkly eye.
On the right in the photo... Gerry Adams, who in negotiating a peace settlement, sold out all his principles. The IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, of which Adams is boss, has been for most of the 20th century committed to destroying Northern Ireland by any means necessary, in order to make the British hand it over to reunite Ireland from two halves into one whole.
(Hence Irish-American bumper stickers with a map of Ireland and the equation 26 + 6 = 1. The twenty-six independent Irish counties of the Irish Republic, plus the six still-British-owned and controlled Northern Irish counties, equals one country).
But in making peace, Adams and company accepted (surrendering, really) that the British Government would continue to have the last say over whatever happens in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, would continue to govern Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, even if (see photo above, note smiles) there is now once again a revived petty local parliament in Belfast.
These men are smiling... because they are rich. And they have, in their own tiny corner of the globe, from which I hail, some measure of real power. As salaried elected representatives, they all draw rather large wages, have 24-hour police body guards, are feted around the world as notable peace-makers of the same cut as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and upon them falls the dreary Northern Irish rain. To quote Dr Paisley's favorite book: He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5, verse 45).
That there is peace in Northern Ireland is an undeniable good, though it is a messy peace that leaves many people bitter and may have in it sewn the seeds of renewed conflict in years to come. Though the Troubles tarnished Northern Ireland's reputation and has had political, legal, military significance across the entire world (for example, some former police officers from Northern Ireland with years of experience in fighting the IRA with all sorts of dirty, nasty, vicious extra-legal cloak-and-dagger methods are now advisers to the Iraqi government and the U.S. military), it is worth remembering that as the Troubles raged on through 35 long and rainy years, most people in Northern Ireland read about the violence in their newspapers each morning, shook their heads disapprovingly, and went to work. And today, at least, there are no car bombs, no drive-by shootings, no "man thinning out his kind..., the blind swipe of the pruner and his knife, busy about the tree of life ..."
And finally, Peter Robinson, in the photo above, at left: as Dr. Paisley's deputy, Robinson visited New York City in 2004 on a sort-of secret mission to see what (Catholic-supporting) Irish-Americans really thought of the Protestants he and Paisley represented, and I met him over dinner at a nice restaurant on 57th Street.
Peter was suave, polished, jokey, stubborn, charming, charismatic, but most of all, scarily intelligent, able to think politically in scores of directions at once while stabbing you in the back and making you feel good about it. Paisley is old and will soon be dead. Adams, though clever, is a sneak and a jerk. Look out for Robinson's rising star...