Direct rule fostered criminality

Your Leader ("The truth about Northern Ireland", 28 February) argued that, in taking part in an alleged bank raid, IRA/Sinn Fein went beyond the level of local criminality that had been accepted as the price for peace. That is an original but unfair perspective. Both loyalist and nationalist criminals have exploited the "no-go areas" ever since the first breakdown of social order in 1968. We knew it would be difficult to restore normality. But nobody anticipated the weakness of the political process in dealing with criminality, or how it would be so crudely dominated by the patronage of existing political parties.

The power-sharing assembly was Northern Ireland's first experiment with "accountable democracy". Fifty years of Unionist patronage and oppression and 30 years of direct rule were an inadequate preparation. Direct rule also led to rampant criminality. Public auditors routinely qualify Northern Ireland accounts and each year, ten times more is lost in fraud than was lost in the Northern Bank robbery. The assembly's priority should have been to open up the way resources are being allocated at every level. But that didn't happen. Official attitudes continue to reflect Westminster and Dublin traditions of centralised party control and inadequate parliamentary scrutiny.

Des McConaghy

Your Leader is right about the realpolitik of the deal between the IRA and the British government. However, it hardly bears out your conclusion that a similar approach should be tried with Islamist groups. The Northern Ireland peace process obfuscated many important issues, around weapons decommissioning and disbandment of paramilitary groups. Politics in the province is now even more polarised, the assembly is suspended, and the Northern Bank robbery suggests the IRA is getting restless. Fundamental issues that will decide whether the peace lasts have been dodged. Let us see how these are resolved before deciding that the peace process is a blueprint for resolving other conflicts.

Iain Sharpe
Watford, Hertfordshire

This article first appeared in the 07 March 2005 issue of the New Statesman, The Bling Bling List