A new attempt is being prepared by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to restore a limited form of self-rule to Northern Ireland.
A plan drawn up by the British prime minister's Ulster secretary, James Prior , proposes an assembly with elections to be held this autumn and an executive council in Belfast on which Protestants and Roman Catholics would share power.
Mr. Prior's initiative has yet to be approved by the Thatcher Cabinet, and when the moment for launching the plan arrives (probably in the spring) great care will be taken to prepare Northern Ireland opinion.
The idea of an assembly is strongly favored by many British members of Parliament who see Britain's position in Ulster bogging down hopelessly if fresh efforts are not made to devolve power to the troubled province.
Since the early 1970s, Ulster has been ruled directly from London. All executive decisions affecting the province are taken by Mr. Prior who came to office as Ulster secretary late last year.
An attempt at power-sharing between the Protestant majority and the Roman Catholic minority came to grief nearly 10 years ago when the Protestants refused to cooperate. This failure was followed by a steady escalation of violence.
Mr. Prior is launching his plan at a time when shootings and bombings have been occurring at only a moderate level. The British government feels that the atmosphere is about right for another initiative.
Mrs. Thatcher is hoping that the general election in Ireland later this month will produce a stable majority in the Dublin Parliament and that the new government, whatever its political complexion, will support the Ulster initiative.