Drawing on their long experience with sectarian violence, the leaders of Northern Ireland say arming more people in Syria would be a mistake.
“We’ve come through generations of conflict and division, some might even stretch it back 800 years,” Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, told reporters at the G8 on Monday. “And no conflict is going to be settled in a permanent way through having people armed and fighting each other. Conflict will only ever be resolved through dialogue and through negotiations and that has to be the way forward.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness agreed. “My own personal view is that putting more armed people, putting more weapons, into a country can exacerbate the situation,” he said. Northern Ireland “is an example of how conflict can be resolved. What was the key ingredient in resolving our conflict? There had to be a will and a desire by all of the main participants to bring the misery of conflict and war to an end. And that’s where some of these other people need to get to.”
Northern Ireland has been held up during the G8 as an example to countries like Syria as to how a civil war can be resolved peacefully. U.S. President Barack Obama made that point in a speech in Belfast on Monday, saying that while Northern Ireland still has a way to go in its peace process, “We need you to get this right, you set an example for those who seek a peace of their own”.
Belfast and the rest of the province have been largely free of sectarian violence since the Good Friday Agreement was signed 15 years ago. That deal set the framework for a government in Northern Ireland that is largely shared between Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans (Mr. Robinson is with the Democratic Unionist Party and Mr. McGuinness Sinn Fein).
However there have been flare ups recently, including last December when Belfast’s city council, which is controlled by republicans for the first time, voted to stop flying the Union Jack atop City Hall every day. That prompted days of violent protests by Protestant groups. There are also growing concerns that a group called the Real IRA is becoming more active and violent.
Mr. Robinson and Mr. McGuinness agreed that more needs to be done in the province, but said they have developed concrete plans to move integration forward.
“Nobody knows better than us that a community coming out of conflict, in the transition period people do not move at the same pace,” said Mr. McGuinness.
Added Mr. Robinson: “You couldn’t have found two more different people than Martin and myself, yet we’re in partnership in government together. That’s a clear indication to people that we’ve got a stable society and we’ve got a peaceful outlook.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has mentioned that hosting the G8 in Northern Ireland is confirmation of how far the province has come in the last 15 years. Holding this type of summit here would have been impossible even 10 years ago, Mr. Cameron has said.
Mr. McGuinness pointed out that despite safety concerns, only a handful of people have been arrested during the G8 and most of the protesting has been peaceful. He added that he told Mr. Cameron that this could be the most peaceful G8 summit ever.