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Self-Rule in N. Ireland

Those who have worked and prayed to see the candle of peace glow brightly in Northern Ireland must continue to circle round to protect it from the still-whirling winds of sectarian hatred.

Despite a cease-fire by the Irish Republican Army, scattered bombings have continued, apparently by individuals outside the IRA's control.

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Meanwhile, unionists are preparing for their annual Drumcree parade July 5, in which some 1,500 marchers celebrate a Protestant military victory in 1690. They have been asked not to parade along part of their traditional route, which runs through a Catholic neighborhood. Leaders there say the display is offensive and provocative. But so far the marchers refuse to change their plan and will be halted by police. The last two marches have resulted in many injuries and millions of dollars in damages.

One might think it easy enough for either the neighborhood to shrug off the "insult" or the marchers to show some sensitivity by parading elsewhere. But extreme elements on both sides would rather abandon logic for blind loyalty to an outgrown past.

The future lies elsewhere, in a new assembly, which meets for the first time July 1. Its 108 members represent both of Northern Ireland's communities. It will have a Protestant unionist first minister and a nationalist Catholic deputy first minister.

The assembly's politics will be complex, vigorous, and fascinating. To pass, major decisions will need backing across sectarian lines. Unionist and nationalists will have to work together to keep at bay a strong minority of radical unionists bent on making the assembly unworkable.

Many in both traditions are eager to use any "peace dividend," money once needed for security forces, to fund programs like housing and education. They want to lower corporate taxes and promote tourism to create badly needed jobs.

These are the issues any elected assembly should work on. This is the future, no matter how intently marchers or bombers try to look to the past.

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