In yesterday’s paper we reproduced the outlines of a peace deal that had been reported on these pages almost exactly 280 years ago.
The deal, between Genoa and Corsica, had been relayed to News Letter readers on January 2 1739 (the reproduction of it is on our website, link below).
There was then a bitter civil war in which Corsica was seeking independence from the Republic of Genoa, something it later achieved — before coming under French rule, which it has been ever since.
The outline peace deal is divided into eight ‘articles’, or sections, which deal with various aspects to the proposed peace, which had been mediated in France.
The first article describes “a general amnesty ... for all Persons that have incurred those Penalties on Account of the Rebellion, of which no farther Mention shall be made”.
The second article deals with decommissioning. It reads: “A general Disarming, under Pain of Death of all Persons that shall afterwards be found to have Arms.”
The fifth tries to ensure faith in local justice. It says: “The Supream Tribunal of Corsica shall be composed of three Foreign Auditors, who are to be neither Corsicans nor Genoese; the inferior Judges shall be Corsican, and be allowed to judge without Appeal in all Law Suits, wherein not above the Value of 500 Livres is depending, whereas they were formerly limited to Causes not exceeding 25 Livres.”
Other articles set up schools and commit to conferring “nobility on four Corsican Families” every year.
Then the final article: “For the Future, Murders shall be punished with Death without Remission, and the Republick binds herself not to grant either Reprieve or Asylum for such Crimes.”
The deal was reached in late 1738, 260 years before the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The framework of the two deals is similar.
The Corsican deal had an amnesty, which the Northern Ireland deal 21 years ago did not, but the amnesty was accompanied with a bite: that last clause, in which there is not only a pledge to execute those who continue to kill, but a specific vow not to reprieve them.
The Corsican deal fell through, and News Letters from later in 1739 have regular reports of appalling violence and massacres, on a scale far greater than in our Troubles.
Corsica would not only become French, it would, under the new dispensation, see its most famous son, Napoleon Bonaparte, become a conquering French ‘emperor’.
In Northern Ireland in the last year there has been much debate over an amnesty for soldiers, which would probably result in an amnesty for paramilitaries too.
Yet I have not heard anyone call for such an amnesty, encompassing everyone from state to republicans, but tie the idea to Sinn Fein support for a clampdown on dissidents. Nor have I heard anyone suggest that SF support for a tough approach to dissidents be a compulsory feature of any deal to restore Stormont.
Instead, restoring power sharing is still seen as dependent on meeting republican core demands.
When Arlene Foster at the DUP conference talked about the need for a cultural deal, it could have been interpreted as a way of giving SF what it wants over the Irish language, in return for provisions for Ulster Scots that few people want.
In any sane political environment, the big Westminster parties, unionist parties, Alliance, Fine Gael and some other members of the Dail would all endorse the notion that unwavering support for the rule of law and accepting a united stance against terror — be it loyalist gangsterism or dissident would-be murder — would be a requirement for holding ministerial office.
That would then pave the way for an overhaul of our ridiculously lenient bail policy and our soft sentences for serious terror convictions. It might signal a cross-party desire to see a rise in the pitiably low conviction rate against dissident murders.
We would, in effect, be agreeing not to pursue the past, on which there will never be agreement, but vowing to work together against those who currently reject peace.
Such an approach would mean, for example, that Martina Anderson MEP would in future decline to help any of the men found civilly liable for the Omagh mass murder, if she was again asked to lobby against their extradition to mainland Europe (as she recently lobbied for the ‘rights’ of Liam Campbell).
Will we in 2019 see such demands be made of Sinn Fein by the other political parties? Or will we just see them all accept republican parameters for devolution?
• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor