A Still Useful Accord
THE most remarkable thing about the Anglo-Irish accord, five years old Nov. 15, is that it has survived. The Hillsborough Agreement, as it is formally known, gave Dublin a consultative role in the governance of Northern Ireland. In exchange, Ireland acknowledged that the six counties of the North are part of Britain and will remain so until a majority of their people vote otherwise. The accord's practical aims were modest - basically, to keep lines of communication out between the British and Irish governments. This it has done, despite changes in office on both sides, and despite some severe strains in relations at times. One of the lessons here is that communication is most important when it is most difficult.
What the accord has against it is the largely Protestant unionist community. Unionists saw in it the first step in their being abandoned to be swallowed up in an overwhelmingly Catholic Irish Republic. That Dublin had acknowledged the partition of Ireland as never before cut no ice with the unionists.
But support from Dublin has made constitutional politics a more credible vehicle for nationalists' aspirations. Three constitutional nationalists from Northern Ireland now sit in Parliament, compared to one five years ago. This has been a tangible success of the accord. Meanwhile, electoral support for the more radical nationalists, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, has fallen.
Violence, however, has not. Last month the IRA ``crossed a new threshold of evil,'' as a Catholic bishop put it, by strapping civilians into vans loaded with explosives and forcing them to drive into British Army checkpoints.
Such episodes will go on, some say, until the British get the message and pull out. But even with the British Army out, Northern Ireland would still have a million Protestants whose families have been there for centuries and who absolutely want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Those who don't hear this are as deaf in their way as unionists who utterly fail to hear nationalists' complaints about a justice system they see skewed against them, complaints about all the ways in which they have been shut out of the system generally in Northern Ireland.
Which brings us back to the value of communication. Let's hope the Anglo-Irish accord is continued until it is no longer needed. The situation is too dangerous to let people keep talking past one another.