Northern Ireland talks are on again Sein Fein will participate: Unionists take soundings as if they mean it this time.

September 05, 1997

THE MOST hopeful portent for resumption of Northern Ireland negotiations is the behavior of the Ulster Unionist Party, led by David Trimble. The party with the largest support in the province, the main voice of the majority Protestants who want to remain in the United Kingdom, will be there.

It will not be intimidated by the boycott of the extremist rival for loyalist votes, the Rev. Ian Paisley. The party has made a show of consulting all religious groups. On Monday, Mr. Trimble met with the Roman Catholic primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady, which no Unionist predecessor had done. Mr. Trimble is acting as if he knows this round is the real thing.

Mr. Trimble anticipated the British government would find this IRA cease-fire genuine -- as it did -- qualifying the IRA's alter ego, Sinn Fein, to take part Sept. 15 as one of nine parties representing Northern Ireland's voters.

The British and Irish governments have been refining their joint -- approach to the talks. The IRA is not required to destroy its weapons beforehand. Whether Mr. Trimble wants to be photographed shaking hands with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, or will insist on a proximity format, may depend on the polls.

The two governments will establish an independent "commission decommissioning" to set a pace and supervise compliance of weapons destruction as talks proceed. That is different from Mr. Adams' professed willingness to destroy the guns afterward.

What is envisaged is a long and tedious process. The goal is accommodation between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between the two parts of Ireland and between Britain and the Emerald Isle. None would mean revoking the past or legitimizing one national tradition and repudiating the other. Accommodations would be about sharing the new Europe. No one expects that to be easy.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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