NEARLY three months have passed since Bobby Sands' coffin was carried out of the Maze prison and a miasma of fatalism and mutual suspicion settled over relations between the British government and the hunger strikers' representatives. The strikers may have won the international propaganda war but they must realise that it has already proved a pyrrhic victory.
Lives continue to be wasted. Each hunger striker's funeral provokes further violence and an alarming new wave of bitterness and cynicism which exacerbates old wounds. Meanwhile Irelandas a whole has experienced a form of sectarian polarisation which has left many English people and especially English Catholics — angry and bewildered. Hope for selfgovernment based on powersharing now seems more remote than ever and the dream of a united Ireland has been relegated further into the realms of shadowy fantasy.
Those who have tried to occupy the middle ground between the Government and the hunger strikers have been baulked by the complete lack of trust from both sides. The only clear achievement has been the brutalising affect of the succession of coffins out of the Maze. The deaths of hunger strikers no longer shock: our very acceptance of hunger strikes is a victory for the mentality of violence.
While all eyes are on the H block it is easy to forget that the daily life of one and a half million people in Northern Ireland is continually fractured by the presence of violence. We, in Britain, found one week of rioting and looting seriously alarming but this pales into insignificance beside the years of fear and bloodshed which Northern Ireland has suffered and which for many of its young people is the only life they have known.
Last week in Lourdes young people from England and Northern Ireland held a moving service of reconciliation. Their idealism was a sharp reminder that we have no right to give into the sour hopelessness of the past. The task of occupying the middle ground between groups who fear being seen to concede has never been so invidious or so necessary for the future.