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'Power sharing' soothes religious rivalries

In this ancient site of Protestant-Catholic battles 75 miles west of Belfast on the Irish border, "power-sharing" between the two communities is working at the political level.

One reason for the success in Derry is Pat Devine, a local carpenter. Ten years ago he helped found the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the chief voice of the minority community.

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Today Mr. Devine is Mayor of Derry, presiding over a 27-member council and a city with a Roman Catholic majority.

Mr. Devine calls attention to the Protestants" "very unfortunate history of doing business in a much less than fair way, thanks to gerrymandering" -- until the Protestant politicians lost control of Derry in 1973.

Redistricting and the emergence of the moderate Alliance Party forced a change, and for the past seven years the post of mayor has alternated each year.

This year it is SDLP man Pat Devine's turn to be in the top post. Next year the post will almost certainly go back to the Unionist Party.

Mr. Devine accepts the limitations of Derry's experiment in power-sharing. Early hopes that other district councils would follow suit have not worked out. And the powers exercised by the Derry Council are strictly limited, detractors say, limited to such things as sweeping the streets and looking after the graveyards.

But Mayor Devine and british officials feel the council's limited power may be a key to success. Instead of suddenly finding themselves landed with major government responsibilities, the Derry councilors have gradually begun to earn public confidence and to build up their own confidence by debating issues and advising government ministers on a wide range of subjects, such as housing and employment policies, and by developing Derry as a tourist attraction.

"Because we do not have direct power in these areas outside our brief," the Mayor explains, "we are able to build up political contacts and formulate directives to the British government."

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He believes that this slow process of confidence building is paying dividends , particularly in employment and in Derry's reduced level of terrorist violence.

Drawing on firsthand experience of terrorist control of his community, followed by the British Army takeover, Mr. Devine says: "One of the great weapons against violence is public opinion."

The Mayor makes no attempt to hide his views. He favors unification of Ireland. He explains that unification would benefit all people of the Island and would be a natural development within the context of the Irish Republic's and Northern Ireland's joint membership in the European Community.

Mr. Devine sees the British government as the major obstacle to a political settlement. "The British government is not looking at the Northern Ireland situation in its entirety," he says. "They look at some pieces of it and react accordingly, instead of looking at every aspect, instead of considering the basis on which Northern Ireland was founded and the way that it has operated over the last 60 years."

"In the past there was political obstruction to the development of Derry," he says, recalling the fact that the New University of Ulster and many factories went to the smaller, neighboring Protestant town of Coleraine -- not to Derry. "Today we feel that political obstruction has been removed to a great degree," the mayor continues, citing the new Maydown Industrial Park with its huge, rapidly expanding Du Pont plant.

Both as a symbol and in a very practical way, the new bridge being built across the River Foyle will link Maydown jobs with Derry's Catholic housing areas. High unemployment bred generations of violence in these areas.

Today the street barricades are gone, replaced by a sense of belonging.


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