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Standing for Peace in N. Ireland

People of goodwill worldwide will support the partisans of peace in Northern Ireland as they fight back despair and press on after the return to violence there. Understanding how things fell apart is a good first step. All sides share blame:

*Protestant unionist demonstrators have no need to parade through Catholic nationalist neighborhoods. Is unionists' sense of British identity and Reform Christianity so fragile that it can only be sustained by such manifestations? And if the point was to protest alleged British "concessions" to the IRA, other, less-provocative ways exist to do so.

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*The Royal Ulster Constabulary was right originally to block the Orange Order marchers but wrong when it allegedly buckled to pressure from London and let the march proceed. Both the government and the RUC were concerned about tens of thousands of unionist troublemakers massing against the 3,000 police officers on the scene. But better intelligence would have told both long before that the unionists had been planning the confrontation for some months.

The authorities should have foreseen the outrage the march would provoke among Irish nationalists, who are now more convinced than ever that Britain and the Protestant-dominated RUC are not impartial. Instead, the moderate-nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP) has withdrawn from the peace forum; nationalists island-wide have been drawn closer together in what one columnist called "a cold communal fury."

*Catholic nationalists were indeed seriously provoked, but their violent reaction was unwarranted. How much better it would have been to shutter doors and windows, let the childish demonstration pass by ignored, and work to prevent a recurrence.

*Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Bruton was justifiably angry, but his public criticism of Britain only angered the British and backed Prime Minister John Major into a corner.

Now cooler heads must prevail. London swallowed hard and agreed to Dublin's demand for a meeting under the Anglo-Irish accord. Its announcement of a review of procedures for handling marches is welcome. The SDLP must be coaxed back to the peace talks. In bowing to the unionists, the British have undermined London and Dublin's principled position that Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, be excluded from the talks until the IRA restores its cease-fire. Britain must persuade unionist paramilitaries not to respond to outrages like the Enniskillen motel bombing.

Previous steps toward peace proved possible when US President Clinton intervened. The White House should consider how American good offices might help at this juncture.

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