THE EUPHORIA at the end of a generation of bloodshed that greeted the Irish Republican Army cease-fire in 1994 was absent Saturday, when the IRA announced another one, preparing for all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland.
People breathed easier, enjoyed the parks and the shops. And once more, Irish people south of the border contemplated a day trip to see the six counties they have always lived near and perhaps never seen.
But the 1994 cease-fire lasted just 17 months, during which no meaningful negotiations occurred, before terror resumed in February 1996. And during it, the IRA and loyalist terrorist organizations in the Protestant community terrorized their own slums. No guarantees are given against this cease-fire going the same way.
The IRA's refusal to scrap weapons stopped the last process cold. This time, new Prime Minister Tony Blair has moved with vigor to reassure the Protestant majority on the principle of majority consent, offering the IRA terms proposed earlier by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell for disarmament while talks proceed.
This postpones rather than ends the issue of "decommissioning," as the IRA calls it. But with Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein resuming a political role, the crucial figure becomes David Trimble, head of the Unionist Party, the closest thing Northern Ireland has to a majority political leader. Having behaved badly before, Mr. Trimble had the wisdom yesterday to make clear that he is not walking out.
Mr. Trimble must worry about demagogic rivals capitalizing at any hint of softness in defending a British Protestant population that sees itself under siege. It is time for him to come up with creative ideas, rather than react.
Most of the people want peace, economic development and tranquillity within political institutions that fairly apportion power and make them first-class citizens. The opportunity exists to craft arrangements on which the major parties can agree. But no one is expressing great confidence that this will be achieved.
Pub Date: 7/22/97