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Dublin, IRA Meet, But Many Irish Are Apprehensive About Uniting Land

The Irish government is pressing ahead with efforts to promote peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

Breaking an Anglo-Irish ban on official contact with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds met Sept. 6 with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

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The historic meeting followed one day after Dick Spring, the Republic of Ireland's foreign minister, met with Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew. Dublin sought to convince London that the outlawed IRA is intent on forsaking arms and reaching a negotiated settlement on the territory's future status.

The British government, meanwhile, said it will not engage the IRA in political dialogue until it received guarantees that the cease-fire was permanent. The Provisional IRA has waged a 25-year terror campaign to end London's administration of Northern Ireland.

But while Dublin may be focused on keeping Northern Ireland's peace process moving, residents of the city seemed far from absorbed by recent developments. While all those interviewed in the Irish capital welcome the chance for peace, most say the situation in Northern Ireland has little impact on their lives.

``People down here really don't give too much thought to it. We've got enough problems of our own,'' says taxi driver Kevin Grogan, citing Ireland's double-digit unemployment figures.

THE goal of the IRA has been to unite mainly Protestant Northern Ireland with the overwhelmingly Catholic republic. But for many Dubliners - far-removed from the urban battle zones in Belfast and Londonderry - the prospect of a unified island seems to prompt more apprehension than enthusiasm.

``We simply can't afford it,'' businesswoman Finola Martin says, referring to the potential cost of incorporating Northern Ireland into the republic. Northern Ireland currently relies heavily on subsidies from London to maintain its economic viability.

Many Dubliners also voiced concerns that trying to merge the two societies could be difficult. After 25 years of violence, some Dubliners say Northerners, regardless of their religious beliefs, are too battle-scarred to adapt to the basically nonsectarian southern tradition.

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``You go up the road [from Dublin to Belfast] and the farther you go, the more bitter the people get,'' says Mr. Grogan, the taxi driver. ``Down here people don't care two monkeys what religion you are. You can stand out in the middle of the street acting like a heathen, and no one cares.''

Now that prospects for a lasting peace have moved from the theoretical to the possible, popular opinion may end up backing something other than a unified Ireland. ``The violence in the North since 1969 may, when peace has taken root, turn out to have introduced greater realism about the limits of [unionist and nationalist] traditional objectives,'' the Irish Times daily stated in an editorial.

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