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Glimmer of light from n. Ireland

An agreement in principle to reopen the cross-border electricity link is the most significant symbol of potential north-south cooperation to emerge from a recent top-level meeting on Northern Ireland.

The meeting between Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humprey Atkins, and the Republic of Ireland's Foreign Minister, Brian Lenihan, was another step in the tantalizingly slow dance being performed by British, Irish, and Ulster politicians over the future of this divided island.

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With a new plant at Kilroot beginning service at the end of this year, Northern Ireland has a surplus of power. They would like to sell it to the south. The south, power short, would like to buy.

But terrorists blew up power-line pylon five years ago on the interconnector line, and they continue to threaten repairmen sent to the site. The latest threat, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service says, came "just a few weeks ago."

There are other areas of agreement as well. In three regions -- the border areas of Armagh, Fermanagh, and Londonderry -- economic studies are under way to encourage cross-border trade and tourism.

Despite the ebbs and flows of violence in this city of barbed wire, armored cars, and rifle-toting British Army soldiers, observers note a gradual shift in mood. The catholic minority, long thought to be supporters of IRA activity, are now said to be less eager to resist police and Army efforts to maintain order. Last summer's killing of Lord Mountbatten, some say, was a real turning point. It caused widespread revulsion against the terrorists both here and in the south.

Many still doubt that political initiatives can resolve anything. But if they are resigned, they are also a resilient populace. "We've learned to live with it; that's probably terrible," says Tom McIlwaine, a farm cooperative manager in the tiny rural town of Swatragh. But he adds, as many would, "One senses that it is improving in the long term."


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