Ulster Cease-Fire

September 02, 1994

The Irish Republican Army's cease-fire announced this week should improve the lives of poor people in the Catholic slums of Northern Ireland almost immediately. They will be less afraid to walk out their doors. Their youth will not be immediately suspect. Neighborhood bullies will cease pretending to be courts of law. The British military presence should progressively recede to barracks as the cease-fire sticks.

The cease-fire will enable Sinn Fein, the political arm of the movement of which the IRA is the military arm, to play the political role that all constitutional parties do, its influence determined by voters. It should improve conditions for investment and jobs.

It will, over time, improve the trust and reason by which the two communities of Northern Ireland, the two parts of Ireland and the two largest British Isles must seek accommodations. That means the consultation, negotiation, devolution and plebiscites foreseen under the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Downing Street Declaration.

Especially, it should mean intercommunal dialogues contemplated in the Downing Street Declaration that do not require political preambles. Protestants and Catholics must live side-by-side, whatever country it is.

The peoples of Ireland, sharing a small island within the European Union, have much to discuss whether a political border runs through it or not.

What the cease-fire will not guarantee is success in any of these talks, or constitutional reform, or unification of Ireland into one nation-state. It merely removes one obstacle from those processes, and puts the spotlight on the Unionist (Protestant) politicians to end obstructionism.

The "complete cessation of military operations" is not even guaranteed to last. The word "permanent" was conspicuously missing from the IRA statement. The people the IRA purports to represent overwhelmingly want the cease-fire, as their celebrations made clear.

But there may well be renegade remnants determined to carry on, both in the IRA and among the Ulster Defense Association, Ulster Freedom Fighters and Ulster Volunteer Force in the Protestant communities.

Elements of the IRA have wanted this for at least two years. The posture of President Clinton, more "green" and sympathetic than his predecessors, appears to have aided the decision, particularly in allowing Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams into this country last January to help convince key American supporters.

What is achieved is not peace or accommodation, but a chance for those processes to begin.

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