Northern Irish Uncertainties

Article excerpt

NOW that Northern Ireland's local elections have taken place, political leaders there, as well as their interlocutors in London and Dublin, should be gearing up for a resumption of the talks about the future of the province; but it may take a jump-start to get things moving again.

The talks, which ran from last April to November, should be viewed as remarkable for having occurred at all rather than disappointing for being inconclusive.

Still, Sir Patrick Mayhew, British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, was quite bullish the other day when he came to see us at the Monitor: "Further dialogue is essential."

The talks have involved the four "constitutional" parties; that is, the (mostly Catholic) nationalists - who identify as Irish and aspire to a unified Ireland - and the (mostly Protestant) unionists, who identify as British and want to remain part of Britain. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army, has not been part of the talks.

Talks had been on hold until the May 19 local elections for 26 city and county councils. The vote was expected in some quarters to be a sort of referendum on the talks themselves, with the parties that had participated in the talks rewarded at the polls. It didn't work quite that way, however.

The elections wrought relatively little change, and unionists, now as before, control most councils; but some nonparticipating parties posted slight gains.

A British draft proposal, intended to serve as a starting point for resumed talks, has been badly received by the nationalists; but Dublin will be putting together its own counterproposal and can be expected to be working closely with the British government to get talks going. …