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Peace in Ireland

THE peace process in Northern Ireland will surely survive the collapse of Albert Reynolds's government in Dublin, but it will be well to have a successor regime in place as soon as possible.

The issue is not support for the peace process among the political parties - which would continue whoever is at the helm in Dublin - but keeping people on the ground convinced that progress is being made.

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The Irish Republican Army has just admitted that the murder of a postal worker in Newry Nov. 10 was indeed the work of one of its ``volunteers,'' albeit without the sanction of its leadership. This has led to understandable concern that the volunteers are under less than complete control. More than 50 rogue volunteers are said to be planning a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

Meanwhile, paramilitary groups of all stripes retain their arms, and in many nationalist (Catholic) areas, beatings and clubbings have replaced shootings. Some of this is regarded as internal ``discipline'' by the IRA leadership, trying to uphold the cease-fire from within, and some of it is the usual ``law enforcement'' the IRA operatives have practiced for years in neighborhoods where the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary lacks credibility.

The Reynolds government resigned last week after its junior coalition partner, the Labour Party under Deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring, withdrew its support. Labour was unhappy over the appointment of Harry Whelehan as president of Ireland's High Court. As attorney general, Mr. Whelehan had delayed seven months before responding to a request from Northern Ireland for the extradition of a Catholic priest involved in a child-molestation case. Reynolds's excuses for Whelehan in Parliament did not inspire confidence.

Bertie Ahern, the finance minister, was chosen over the weekend to succeed Mr. Reynolds as the head of Fianna Fail, the dominant party in the coalition. Mr. Ahern is expected to put together a new government with Labour likely to look very much like the old one. Reynolds notably did not seek a new election.

The sad end to which his government came should not hide Reynolds's crowning achievement in office, his brokering of the cease-fire announced Aug. 31 by the IRA. As a businessman and former trade minister, he came to the Northern Ireland issue with no particular background but no baggage either. He made it his own, and just kept pushing - on British Prime Minister John Major, and on Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams - until he got an agreement.

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