Out of the deaths of babes Reaction: Atrocity shakes sense into sectarian strife, may even save political settlement.

July 17, 1998

MEMORY is potent in Northern Ireland. Currently, it is memory of the Sunningdale agreement, which produced a brief provincial government in 1974. This was the model for the latest accord that has led to power-sharing between Protestant and Catholic parties.

The Protestant Unionist Party today narrowly favors the current experiment, which its leader, David Trimble heads. The Protestant Orange Order, traditionally interlocked with the party, opposes it.

Intransigents are using protests over a disputed Orange Order parade, which was re-routed away from a Catholic neighborhood in Portadown, for a larger political purpose. They want to create another triumph of civil disobedience.

But politics in Northern Ireland is often intertwined with appalling acts of violence that turn public opinion against the perpetrators.

Sunday morning, someone sympathetic to the Orangemen tried to intimidate isolated Catholic families in northern County Antrim by tossing a petrol bomb through the window of Christine Quinn's house.

The Catholic mother of three boys had moved with her Protestant boyfriend into a Protestant project in mostly Protestant Ballymoney. She was raising her boys Protestant, for a better future there.

In the ensuing firestorm, the adults escaped. But sons Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, ages 9, 10 and 11, died in the flames.

Christine Quinn had them buried as Catholics, eight miles to the south in Rasharkin. The funeral was a rare ecumenical service for north County Antrim.

Throughout the province, loyalists were outraged, chastened, subdued. While Portadown Orangemen maintained their hillside vigil, Orange leaders elsewhere withdrew solidarity.

Moderation rises. Suddenly, success of the peace regime headed by Mr. Trimble and Seamus Mallon is thinkable again. That is not what the arsonist of Ballymoney had in mind. Such atrocities invariably sabotage the hopes of their perpetrators.

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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