Ulster tries again

Home rule: IRA proposal on arms is accepted, restarting shared government. Until the next crisis.

June 01, 2000

RESTORATION of home rule for Northern Ireland brings back the provincial government that lasted a half-century until 1971.

With this difference: Instead of a government vs. opposition -- as in all other regimes in the British Isles -- the parties share executive power in rough proportion to their electoral strength.

This completes the grand "devolution" that is Tony Blair's British Labor government's chief achievement. Four such regimes, analogous to American states, exist in stages from embryo to infancy. In form and powers, the devolved governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London differ. Each is a special case. Because the IRA accepted inspection as a step toward putting weapons permanently beyond use, a slim majority of the Ulster Unionist Party agreed to return to government.

For this experiment to survive, David Trimble, the Unionist leader, must be shown as politically right, gaining supporters.

Three republican splinters oppose the regime and may resume terrorism. This would create suspicions that they enjoyed IRA weapons and approval. Punishment beatings and assassinations by the IRA and loyalist terrorists continue. Until they end, the credibility of peace will diminish.

The police must be reconstituted, with major Catholic recruitment. Disagreements on this process loom as the next crisis.

Sinn Fein, the party interlocked with the IRA, continues fund raising in the United States, giving it an advantage over the rival Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP). It is the SDLP that always stood for democracy and progress through politics.

This restored regime is requisite for other reforms, including Irish Republic renunciation of sovereignty over Northern Ireland unless its people consent, cross-border cooperation and an Irish presence in pan-British counsels.

All this rests on the rickety regime over which Mr. Trimble presides. Reason enough for persons of good will to make it succeed.

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