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Forward in Northern Ireland

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It's two days before yet another deadline for getting the Northern Ireland peace process back in gear. The parties that must come to terms, Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans, are still at odds over the key issue of disarming the forces that have played out the province's long, sad history of violence.

Most people on both sides of the conflict are ready to bring down the curtain on that history. The Good Friday agreement, concluded last year, was hailed as the irreversible beginning of reconciliation and peace. But in the months since, tensions have flared. The British and Irish governments have doused the flare-ups, and are now working furiously to make Thursday's deadline the final one.

At issue is whether the Irish Republican Army, affiliated with the Sinn Fein party that will take part in the newly formed Northern Irish governing bodies, must give up at least some of its arms before those bodies can spring into motion.

The best solution would be cooperation from Sinn Fein and the IRA in starting the process of disarming now. The cloud of violence has to be dispelled, and that would be the best way to do it. But the best solution has been elusive, and thus a compromise: Let the parties take their governmental seats with a firm commitment from the republican side to begin handing over IRA weapons in accord with a schedule set by a disarmament commission headed by Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain. The onus would then be on Sinn Fein and the IRA to demonstrate good faith.

Unionist hard-liners are leery of this deal, which is championed by London and Dublin. They want to see the weapons now - and they're in the midst of the highly emotional Protestant marching season.

But reason, not emotion, must rule. The well-being of all Northern Ireland's people rests on moving forward toward real peace. The compromise should be seized.

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