N. Ireland peace will hold, British overseer declares Mowlam urges caution toward fringe militants, praises Clinton's efforts

July 23, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Despite persistent "evil" and barbarity in their midst, people in Northern Ireland are overwhelmingly determined "not to go back" to sectarian bloodshed, the British official responsible for the province said yesterday.

The peace process launched by a Good Friday agreement among Protestant and Catholic political leaders has been "moving with a speed, month by month, which isn't necessarily felt here," said Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, who met with reporters at the start of a two-day visit to Washington and New York.

And Mowlam urged leaders of the Irish-American community who support the goal of a united Ireland not to aid any violent fringe groups bent on undermining the peace process.

"It would be a mistake and unhelpful to that process" if Irish-Americans backed groups pursuing armed struggle, Mowlam said.

The people are tired of violence, she said.

"People are just very directed to find another way. And what was overwhelming was a determination not to go back to this situation, but to move forward."

The peace process was shaken early this month by the deaths of three young Catholic brothers -- Richard, Mark and Jason Quinn -- in a firebombing that coincided with Protestant protests over parade routes. The boys were trapped by fire on two floors of their house.

"Neighbors and the parents could hear the kids crying as they burned to death," said Mowlam. "There wasn't a chance to reach them."

In a more recent murder two days ago, the victim was shot in both legs, trapped in an elevator and bled to death.

"It's that kind of unadulterated evil which is still there on the fringes of Northern Ireland, and the sadness is that they are very, very small numbers," said Mowlam.

As a result of the Good Friday agreement, a May referendum supporting the pact in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and June elections to an assembly, support for peace is "the determining factor now," Mowlam said.

But violent fringe groups in both the Protestant and Catholic populations, "if they get a hold," could still destabilize progress toward sectarian peace. They could do so because violence would require the continued presence of troops on the streets to keep order, setting back progress toward a normal life and economic development.

Praising President Clinton, the first U.S. president in memory to make Northern Ireland peace a top priority, she said the administration had "stuck with us through thick and thin."

She called Clinton's planned visit in September "a plus" because it will show continued support.

Clinton was dissuaded from going to Northern Ireland in May during the tense period before the public referendum on the peace agreement.

Mowlam also urged more U.S. investment, saying the jobs it produces will dilute hatred by helping people in both communities "live better side by side."

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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