Ulster Unionists in the Spotlight

September 17, 1995

From the attention that the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams receives in this country, readers might be excused for thinking that a multi-party reconciliation in Northern Ireland would be principally a negotiation between Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, and the British government.

Any such settlement would be at heart an agreement between the Unionist Party (representing the Protestant majority that wants to remain British) and the Irish Republic's government in Dublin. They speak for most of the people on their island.

The Unionist Party, with nine members in the House of Commons, has finally chosen a leader to replace the elderly James Molyneaux. For a quarter century this party has known only how to say no. Now it needs creativity. An initiative is made possible by the IRA cease-fire, by social change in the neighboring Irish Republic and by the European Union to which both parts of Ireland adhere.

Many people will think the Unionists, true to their legacy, picked just the wrong leader. David Trimble is younger and more vigorous than Mr. Molyneaux but not, on the record, more flexible. He has earned a reputation as a hard-liner. It is difficult to imagine him with Mr. Adams.

But perhaps there is wisdom here. It was the anti-Communist President Nixon who forged U.S. relations with Communist China, and the tough Menachem Begin who created Israel's peace with Egypt. Mr. Trimble may lack the instinct for a deal, but he has the credentials.

xTC An accord that returned autonomy to Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, with power-sharing for the Catholic minority, cooperating with the Republic on common concerns, would bring peace and prosperity and security to all the people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic. It would attract some of the global investment that has been flowing to the Republic and restore Ulster's share of tourism.

While Protestant people of Northern Ireland rightly fear coerced incorporation into the Republic, which that country's constitution still claims, no one is proposing that. In the latest Anglo-Irish accord, Dublin as well as London guarantees against anything the majority of people of the province oppose.

Understandably, Unionists don't want to bargain with an IRA gun at their head. When the British and Irish governments try to commit the IRA to "decommissioning" weapons, it is to bring the Unionists to the table. American friends of Ireland ought to join this pressure. The IRA never had a plan for overcoming the Unionists, anyway.

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