Armed talks in Ulster? Mitchell Commission: Proposal for slow de-commissioning of IRA arms.

January 25, 1996

THE COMMISSION seeking peace in Northern Ireland, headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, has failed where others have failed before. Confronted by a Sinn Fein refusal to accept complete disarming of the IRA as a condition for talks with Ulster Unionists, it proposed only that some arms be handed in by Catholic guerrillas as negotiations take place. British Prime Minister John Major said the Protestants would refuse such terms. He proposed immediate provincial elections.

For 16 months of a cease-fire by IRA and Loyalist terrorists, this impasse has prevented negotiations by elected politicians from the Protestant and Catholic communities. Because of whom they were supposed to produce at the table, the Irish Republic government has sided roughly with Sinn Fein on this point and the British government with the Unionists.

So the two governments created the commission of three wise men, with a former prime minister of Finland, Harri Holkeri, and chief of Canada's army, Gen. John de Chastelain, joining Mr. Mitchell. They heard from all sides and tried to split the difference to no avail.

The British government, though disappointed, is morally bound to try to make a success of things on the lines of the Mitchell recommendations. The Unionists ought to go along, though few outsiders have credibility to influence them. The people of Northern Ireland of both communities would never forgive whoever brought back the shooting and bombing.

Before long, there need to be elections to give legitimacy to those who speak for the two communities. It could be a way to get the talks going, with all parties present, in line with Mitchell commission recommendations. But mutual distrust, for now, prevents a breakthrough.

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