Setbacks in Northern Ireland Stalled talks: Letting terrorists and hard-liners events

June 22, 1996

HIGH HOPES for the talks in Northern Ireland have capsized. IRA terrorism-bombing of a shopping mall in England , murder of a policeman in the Irish Republic - has destroyed the premise on which the polilitical alter ego, Sinn Fein, to double-talk. It embarrassed the Irish Republic government's faith in Sinn Fein's leader, Gerry Adams. And it provoked the two main Unionist parties in the Protestant community into competitive intransigence. Such may have been the intent.

The unnecessary election that Britain held before the all-party talks impeded negotiations. It made the forces of intransigence -- Sinn Fein in the Catholic community and the Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party in the Protestant community -- stronger than they had been after earlier elections.

That fortified Mr. Adams' claim to legitimacy despite the IRA bombing. And it strengthened man. David Trimble, leader of the main Unionist Party, had shown confidence in Mr. Mitchell but then waffled. John Hume, architect of this peace process and leader of the largest party in the Catholic community, the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), is strangely muted.

Yet most people in Northern Ireland know that their province benefited from the cease-fire and the momentum for peace. Investment and jobs increased, tourism from the Irish Republic began, European tourism spread. The daily harassments of security measures vanished. Civil life returned for the first time in a quarter-century. All that is now threatened.

Those with a stake in a settlement need contingency plans: Talks without Sinn Fein and, if need be, without Mr. Paisley; greater ostracism of the IRA; a new initiative from Mr. Hume; greater flexibility from the Unionists.

This is a matter not only of what they might gain from an accord that the overwhelming majority of people in both communities would support, but also what they would lose by letting the IRA and Mr. Paisley dictate outcomes.

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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