Then 'the deal' collapsed apparently because while the IRA were willing to dispose of their weapons, they wouldn't allow photographs to be taken. The blame game began. Whose fault was this lack of agreement? Provo intransigence? DUP insistence on humiliation?
After a couple of weeks of this nonsense, came the Northern Bank robbery and suddenly all was changed.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) pointed the finger of blame at the IRA and politicians and 'political commentators' North and South of the border rushed to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the whiff of sulphur which they could suddenly smell from Martin and Gerry. Perhaps the funniest image of all was Gerry Adams issuing a statement complaining that Bertie Ahern was not returning his phone calls. One could almost imagine Gerry sitting weeping by the phone waiting for Bertie to call him and invite him to tango once again!!
But in all reality, who gives a damn?? The 'holy grail' that everyone is supposed to be waiting for with bated breath is the prospect of a devolved government in the North which will include the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. Ian Paisley or Peter Robinson as 'First Minister', Martin McGuinness as his deputy. What about the exciting prospect of Gerry Kelly as Minister for Policing or Arlene Foster in charge of health? The prospect is enough to make the skin crawl.
Since the onset of the so-called peace process, what passes for politics in the North has gone from the absurd to the ridiculous. Of course the ceasefires and the relative peace brought by them are welcomed by everyone, but the 'peace process' and all the endless hours of 'jaw-jaw' that have accompanied it has. at the end of the day, been about the institutionalisation of sectarianism, effectively an acceptance that there are and will always be two sides - orange and green.
The pre-Christmas talks were basically all about a flexing of muscles. Both the Paisley/Robinson and Adams/McGuinness tag teams are trying to portray themselves as the hard men defending the rights of 'their' community. With one eye on the forthcoming Westminster elections, neither could be seen to be conceding a millimetre.
It is more than likely that following the Westminster election SF and DUP will cut a deal, although nothing can be predicted with any degree of certainty when Northern politics are being considered. But the one certainty that we'd all be safe wagering our next decade's wages on is that the re-establishment of a 'devolved government' will do absolutely nothing for the Northern working class.
Sinn Fein's pretence at being a 'Socialist' party is shown up for the nonsense that it has always been when they are willing to even consider facilitating the elevation of the arch-bigot Paisley as 'First Minister'. Taken in conjunction with their salivating at the prospect of entering coalition with Fianna Fail in the South, those members of Sinn Fein who still swallow the 'socialist' rhetoric must be either extremely naïve or stupid.
At any rate the 'devolved government' which the people of Northern Ireland can look forward to will simply offer more of the same. What difference does it make to communities fighting for better education or health services, for decent facilities etc. whether the decision to deny them those services is being made in London or in Stormont?
Real democracy is about more than simply transferring the 'centre of government' across the water. Real democracy will demand a complete transformation of society in the North, south of the border and in Britain and elsewhere. In the North what is needed is a united struggle to win people away from sectarian politics and to socialism.
This won't be easy, we have to build real workers' unity and this means winning protestant workers away from loyalism and unionism and breaking the nationalist/republican hold over catholic workers. We need to convince workers from both sides of the sectarian divide that they have more in common than what divides them.
Anarchists favour direct, not representative, democracy. This means that mass meetings are held in workplaces, schools and communities and negotiators are elected on the basis of the mandate of these meetings. If they don't obey these mandates they are booted out. Genuine community delegates should be doing the talking.
What's going on in the North at the moment is a far cry from real democracy. Battles around real issues such as the current fight against the imposition of water charges provide the common ground on which the sectarian barriers can begin to be dismantled. It is to such campaigns that we should look in the hope of building real workers' unity which can boot out all the parasitical politicians.
This edition is No84 published in Jan 2005