Ulster terrorists take charge Peace Breakdown: Hopes dashed to pessimism in a few bomb bursts.

July 16, 1996

HOPE that the nightmare had ended and that young people had a future has been smashed in Northern Ireland. The good will generated in 17 months of cease-fire ending in February is receding. The momentum building to a new self-government fair to all has turned to tiresome recrimination.

There is instead a remote country hotel destroyed by a bomb in a car stolen from Dublin. There is the funeral of Dermot McShane, a former terrorist run over by a British army truck during disturbances in Londonderry. There is the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble stoutly upholding the most offensive traditions of the Orange Order rather than use his leadership to soften sectarianism's rough edges.

There is the British security commander on the spot in Portadown choosing a riot by the smaller group to one by the larger. There is the Irish prime minister denouncing the British prime minister for it. There is the police raid with gunfire in London that produces the stuff of 36 bombs and seven arrests.

In times like this, the moderate political leaders of each community forget the other and rival the extremists in catering to the fears of their own. Such are the demands of sectarian leadership. The tourism and the investment that had started to resume will taper off. The spin-off helping the Irish Republic will stop.

This is testimony to the power of a few determined people, in particular the new leadership of the IRA, who resumed bombing to stop the peace process in which their ally had been co-opted. The resumption of violence improved the electoral standing of the more extreme political parties of both communities, which induced the moderates to become immoderate.

Few people would say Bosnia is what they wish Ulster to become, but that is what they are working to achieve. And not everyone wants peace, not those who career is spreading terror or winning leadership by pandering to panic. Peace was a boon to the overwhelming majorities of both communities, but it is a threat to a handful with vested interests in the Troubles.

The overwhelming majority of people want peace back on track. But this would require leadership, and in particular catering to the fears of the other side rather than one's own. There is not a lot of precedent for that. It would take a breakthrough in imagination.

Pub date: 7/16/96

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