Stall in Northern Ireland

Suspension: Progress in dismantling weapons essential to resumption of regional government.

February 17, 2000

THE sooner the suspension of Northern Ireland government is ended, the better. The current dynamic is going the wrong way.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) provoked Britain's unilateral suspension of provincial home rule by refraining from a commitment to disarmament, called decommissioning.

The IRA responded by breaking off its talks with the international panel that supervises decommissioning, headed by Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain.

That sounds bad. But the ceasefire holds. The provincial government had begun in a constructive way, with ministers from four parties serious about their responsibilities.

The Irish constitution was amended to end its claim to Northern Ireland. The North/South ministerial council began work on practical matters concerning the whole island. British-Irish institutions began bringing Dublin into structured dialogue with British peoples. A Belfast-Dublin natural gas pipeline project was announced.

Almost no one wants to lose those gains. But the concerns about disarming are genuine. Bombs and guns in private hands must be given up, or those holding them have no business governing their fellow citizens.

Those sympathetic to Sinn Fein say leader Gerry Adams sincerely wants the affiliated IRA to disarm but cannot deliver. Others, in the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland, suspect him of wanting to have participation without disarming. A split within the IRA is rumored.

Frenetic negotiations indicate good faith on the part of parties to the Good Friday accord, including Mr. Adams and the Unionist leader, David Trimble.

British-Irish rupture now would be a victory for the intransigents who want peace to fail.

The IRA did make a last-minute commitment to something, which was not revealed. The IRA can still clarify what it offers, instead of taking its marbles and going home. All of the parties with a big stake in the Good Friday accord ought not hand veto power to the few who don't.

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