Progress in Belfast

Shared government: Up and running after IRA begins scrapping weapons

obstacles remain.

November 12, 2001

THE GOOD NEWS from Northern Ireland is considerable and also, it is hoped, contagious.

Executive government is back with David Trimble as first minister. He was approved by the majority of members of the assembly, by his Ulster Unionist Party and by the loyalist grass roots as polled.

The new deputy first minister is Mark Durkan, new leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), which has been the main political voice of the Catholic minority for three decades.

Mr. Durkan represents generational change from Seamus Mallon in government and from John Hume in leading the party that pioneered civil rights and constitutional nationalism. Much will depend on the untested Mr. Durkan.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary is reconstituted as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, overseen by a 19-member board drawn from the main parties. It is recruiting Catholic minority police officers, with the encouragement of the SDLP and Catholic Church.

The bad news is not trivial. Because of a technicality, Mr. Trimble needed a majority of assembly members calling themselves unionist. He did not have it until nonsectarian moderates declared themselves unionists on Tuesday.

This tarnished Mr. Trimble's legitimacy slightly. It provoked a shoving match from the Democratic Unionists of the Rev. Ian Paisley, who hope to bring the structure down.

Sinn Fein appears to have converted its IRA wing to constitutionalism, but must deliver the rest of the weapons in due course. It finds the police service insufficiently reformed, boycotts the police board and discourages Catholic enlistment.

Sectarian violence by loyalist goons remains a menace. So does terrorism by two splinters of the IRA.

Mr. Trimble, Mr. Durkan and the Sinn Fein ministers must help each other, while cherishing their differences. That's what power-sharing means.

The future of the Good Friday accord depends on Mr. Trimble's politics winning skeptical loyalists away from the rejectionism of Mr. Paisley; on Mr. Durkan reinvigorating his party; and on Sinn Fein strengthening its commitment to constitutionalism.

It's possible.

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