Hoping for Charity at Home Both Sides in Northern Ireland Grapple with Fears as Anglo, Irish Leaders Invite IRA to the Table

Article excerpt

THE latest joint effort of Britain and the Irish Republic to restart talks on Northern Ireland has stirred profound emotions here.

An Ulster joke hints at the deep roots of the province's bitter conflict. "How long does it take to fly home from London to Belfast?" asks an Englishman. "About an hour - and 300 years," replies the Ulsterman. Many of the province's problems spring from religious wars of the 17th century, not just the disagreements of the largely secular 20th century. And natives are fearful that outsiders fail to understand what is at stake.

A majority of the 1.5 million Protestants who favor remaining a province of the United Kingdom tend to look on the outside world suspiciously. Even Britain, which they have relied upon for support, is seen as a potential betrayer prepared to sell out Protestant Ulster to the Roman Catholic Irish Republic.

Despite language in the Dec. 15 Anglo-Irish agreement that sought to reassure Protestants that Northern Ireland will remain British so long as a majority wishes it, they are not comforted.

It would seem that the more the British declare their support, the more the distrust grows - like a partner who becomes skeptical of a spouse who keeps repeating, "I love you!" again and again.

As for the Irish Republic, Protestants disdain its territorial claim over the six counties of the North, and regard the republic as a poor, insincere suitor that jealously eyes the province, but would be unable to keep his Ulster "bride" in her accustomed style.

And, Protestants view the United States as working closely with Dublin, bringing pressure to bear on London to back Irish unity.

Nor are Protestants happy about the influence of the European Union, which they see as a pan-European organization willing to see the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic slowly eroded by a stream of European economic and other directives. …