LONDON -- All the dark expectations that enshrouded the four-party talks launched eight weeks ago to determine Northern Ireland's political future were realized yesterday when the British government, concluding that the talks were going nowhere, announced an end to them.
Peter Brooke, Britain's secretary for Northern Ireland, issued an optimistic statement in the face of the collapse: "The secretary of state andthe party leaders agreed that the talks had been valuable and had produced genuine dialogue."
It was Mr. Brooke who two months ago had launched the talks among the two Northern Ireland Unionist parties (Protestant), the predominantly Roman Catholic Social Democratic Labor Party led by John Hume and the non-sectarian Alliance Party of John Alderdice.
A source close to Prime Minister John Major also did his best to look on the bright side: "This is the first time we've got them to the table in20 years. That in itself is progress. Now that they've talked, it may be easier to get them back together again."
Actually, the talks, whose purpose was to return home rule to Northern Ireland, made almost no progress, marred by procedural disputes over such things as the sites for later stages of negotiation and the selection of an independent chairman.
The leaders of the two Unionist parties -- James Molyneaux (Ulster Unionist) and the Rev. Ian R. Paisley(Democratic Unionist) -- were known to have gone into the negotiations with the aim of killing the Anglo-Irish Accord, an agreement made by Britain and Ireland giving Dublin an advisory role in subjects that pertain to Catholics in Northern Ireland.
That 1985 accord was deeply resented by Northern Ireland Unionists as an intrusion into their domestic affairs. The Unionists want to keep the province permanently a part of Britain. The SDLP and the Alliance are flexible on the question.
In the end, the accord provedstronger than its antagonists. Mr. Molyneaux and Mr. Paisley objected vehemently to a July 16 meeting between Mr. Brooke and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Collins under the procedures of the accord. They let it be known that they would withdraw from the talks should the meeting take place. In view of their determination to carry out their threat, Mr. Brooke quietly brought his initiative to an end.
But the talks were flawed from the beginning, and for a number of reasons. Among them was the exclusion of the nationalist party, Sinn Fein, which is known to be allied with the Irish Republican Army.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said his party "views the Brooke talks as a wasted opportunity in that it did not address the core issues creating conflict in the north. . . . After 17 years and at least nine attempts by Britain at an internal arrangement, it is clear that there can be no political solution built on a British political agenda which underwrites the Unionist veto and partition."