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Northern Ireland's Future

Britain and ireland have gone the last mile, and then some, to preserve the Northern Ireland peace plan. Late last week, with the clock ticking toward a deadline, Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern helped forge a compromise to get around the main obstacle: disarming the Irish Republican Army.

They then reset the clock, giving Republicans and Unionists a few more days to mull their future.

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The 1998 Good Friday peace pact considerably brightened that future, something it sorely needed. It set up a system of governance that provides both sides a voice. The 10-member Cabinet that would serve as executive for the new Northern Ireland Assembly was to have been formed by now. Among its members would be two representatives of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, whose showing in last year's elections entitled them to seats.

Problem is, the Unionists are set against Sinn Fein taking those seats until the IRA demonstrates a willingness to disarm. Sinn Fein, for its part, says there's no such precondition in the Good Friday agreement.

Maybe not, but there's a clear obligation on both sides to disarm. The latest plan would seat Sinn Fein, but with the understanding that a start would be made on handing in guns within a month after that.

Some northern Catholics are complaining about this proposal; their Protestant counterparts are getting ready for "marching season," traditionally a time of tension. Both sides should instead be looking ahead, toward a peaceful future for their families and children. The Blair-Ahern compromise is yet another opportunity to seize that future.

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