Peace progress in Ireland

Police reforming: Disarmament talks resume, followed by new arrests in an old bombing.

March 31, 2001

WHILE POLITICIANS argue whether the reforms in a new Northern Ireland Police Service go far enough, applications to join it are flowing in from both Protestant-loyalist and Catholic-nationalist communities.

The eagerness of well-qualified young Catholics, some from the Irish Republic, may force the hand of political leaders holding back approval. The goal of recruiting on a 50-50 basis between the two communities seems easily met.

This comes when the IRA has resumed talks on "decommissioning" its weapons, or disarmament, after a year of boycotting the international commission charged with achieving that.

Fresh good news comes from the roundup by Irish Republic police of four reputed leaders of the "Real IRA" in connection with the terror bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 1998 that killed 29.

The widespread belief that everyone knew the culprits but nothing could be done had depressed hopes on both sides of the border. The chief law enforcement target is Michael McKevitt, former quartermaster of the IRA who led the defection, protesting its cease-fire, to create the rival Real IRA.

He has already been arrested and released in connection with arms smuggling from the Balkans. Those held in the new raids include his wife, Bernadette Sands McKevitt, who is the most public figure leading the the propaganda arm of the Real IRA. The arrests may halt a growing revival of terror-bombing in England.

The progress stops short of healing the rift between Ulster Unionists on the one side and Sinn Fein (political arm of the IRA) and Social Democratic and labor Party (SDLP) on the other. This rift has delayed full implementation of the Good Friday Accord. But at least the movement is in the right direction after a depressing stall.

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