God works in mysterious ways in Ireland. The main evening news on RTE
is called Six One because that is when it begins – after a minute’s
reflection on the incarnation while the Angelus bell tolls. However,
this being a very modern capitalist Ireland, the Angelus interlude on
the national broadcaster is preceded by a raucous five minutes of non
stop ads including the breathless pitches of our own Harvey Norman.

On the devil’s own day, 6/6/06, The Irish Independent had a
story on its front page that God must have had a hand in. It announced
that the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady, held
top secret talks with the leaders of the Orange Order, the Independent
Orange Order and the Royal Black Preceptory in his residence at Armagh.
That’s right. The Orangemen and the chief Papist.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What is the world coming to? The paper
struggled to find an adjective for the unprecedented meeting before
settling on “historic”. Dr Brady said the meeting was at the request of the Loyal Orders:
“Coming into a time when tensions often rise in Northern Ireland, the
symbolism of such a meeting is powerful. It represented their
willingness to go beyond the barriers of history and I welcomed their
desire to explain their customs, principles and values of their
institutions.”

The tensions he referred to is the Orange marching season, when the
Protestant Loyal Orders frock-up in top hats, garish aprons and
brollies and go marching through the Catholic areas to show they are
their masters still. Since peace broke with the IRA
Good Friday agreement to lay down their guns the two sides of the
sectarian divide have been trying to work out how they might live
together.

The political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly have spent the last
three weeks failing to agree on an Assembly committee devoted to
identifying how devolution might be restored by the Irish and British
governments’ deadline of 24 November. The first two weeks involved wrangling over whether the committee should be
formed, with DUP leader Ian Paisley initially saying the DUP would not
engage with Sinn Fein on the committee. This was resolved with
the agreement that the committee would identify obstacles to restoring
devolution as opposed to negotiating them.

However, all this week the committee had not formally opened proper
business because of the deadlock over who should be the chair. This
revolves around DUP opposition to Sinn Fein taking the chair – it would
rotate between the parties – and Sinn Fein’s insistence it must at some
stage hold the post.

Meanwhile, the loyalist paramilitaries like the UVF have failed to
decommission a single bullet and sectarian violence continues unabated.
Last month, Michael McIlveen, a 15-year-old Catholic schoolboy was
murdered in what police say was a sectarian killing at Ballymena in
County Antrim. During his funeral, loyalist paramilitary flags were
flown at a nearby band parade and sectarian slogans were shouted
during a minute’s silence for the dead kid.

As they say, God works in mysterious ways.