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Despite violence, N. Ireland sees hope in forum on unity

Even as violence rages in Northern Ireland, there are rays of hope. The main political interest centers on a report due next month from the group known as the Forum for a New Ireland. The report will propose a plan for Irish unity.

On the economic front, the main bright note is the guarantee of some 1,600 jobs from new orders given to Ulster's major plane manufacturer and for the Belfast shipyard.

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Meanwhile, relations between Ireland and Britain have been strained by European Common Market complications.

It has been a dramatic two weeks since Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the outlawed Provisional Irish Republican Army, was wounded by gunmen in a Belfast street. Mr. Adams was only slightly hurt and was able to appear several days later at a news conference to protest the extradition of Dominic McGlinchey, once described as ''the most wanted man in Ireland.''

McGlinchey, a member of the outlawed and extreme republican Irish National Liberation Army was arrested March 17 after a gun battle with Irish police.

Within two days McGlinchey was handed over to police in Northern Ireland, where he was charged with the murder of an Ulster woman in 1977. His extradition has raised expectations that other suspects may be sent north. Until recently the southern courts refused to hand over anyone who claimed that his or her actions had been ''political.''

In the past week two men from a Protestant area of north Belfast have been charged with the attempted murder of Gerry Adams. In London, a Belfast man was charged with causing explosions in Britain, including the car-bomb explosions outside Harrods department store last Christmas that killed nine people and injured more than 100.

Statistics show that the security forces are maintaining a tight grip. In 1972, one of the worst years of violence, 467 people died. Last year the figure was 77. As of March 22 this year, 17 have died. Still, 2,363 people have been killed since the troubles began in 1969.

Strenuous attempts are continuing to provide a political framework for peace. Since May last year, the main parties in the south and the mainly Roman Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party from the north have been working on an Irish unity plan. The forum is trying to attract the north's 1 million Protestants. Some northern representatives have spoken to the forum, but the vast majority of Ulster Protestants want no form of Irish unity.

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The forum's report will have to deal with a division among its members: Should it advocate straight Irish unity - favored by Irish opposition leader Charles Haughey and others - or to support a federal Ireland?

The latter option would give the north wide powers and join it only loosely to the south. This is thought to be favored by, among others, Irish Premier Garret FitzGerald. Whatever the forum decides, it is important that they can show agreement. A divided report would confirm Unionist views that Irish unity is impractical.

The British government has been kept informed, but there are no signs of a commitment to either option. Many Irish nationalists fear that the British will declare Irish unity of any kind to be impractical so long as a majority in the north wish to remain British.

One ray of sunshine is the announcement of some 600 new jobs at the Belfast plane manufacturer, Short Brothers. These have been created by a $165 million order from the United States Air Force for 18 Sherpa freight aircraft, plus a $ 495-million option for 48 more over the next four years.

On the day before this was announced, the shipyard of Harland and Wolff secured a $70-million government contract which will secure 1,000 jobs for the next two years.

More jobs, and efforts at political agreement, offer the best hope for the future.

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