Peter Hain, the minister with the toughest and most thankless job in British politics, has arrived in Belfast to take up his new post of Northern Ireland secretary. He has to confront the reality of a province more divided than ever after hardliners made big gains in last week’s British elections.
Hain has to try and restore the Northern Ireland assembly. The power-sharing government of Protestants and Catholics collapsed in two thousand and two after rows over the continuing existence of the armed IRA. He told reporters in Belfast, “All I will say is the only path forward is to get all the parties together, negotiating together, to get the Northern Ireland assembly up and running, to get an end to criminality and paramilitary activity. There is no other future for Northern Ireland,”
The peace process has partly succeeded in that the bombings have stopped and Northern Ireland is enjoying something of an economic renaissance. But moderates on both republican and unionist sides were marginalized in last weeks’ elections. Now the prospect of sectarian free politics for the province’s next generation looks even more remote.