Magazine article The Nation

Ulster Must Not Say No

Magazine article The Nation

Ulster Must Not Say No

Article excerpt

Northern Ireland's peace process faces its gravest crisis since George Mitchell negotiated the Good Friday accord-graver even than after last summer's bombing in Omagh by a small band of breakaway republicans. This time, it's not marginals but the mainstream of Protestant unionist leadership who have thrown the process into jeopardy, and with it the resolution of Europe's longest-running civil rights struggle and civil war.

The Good Friday accords called for Northern Ireland self-government with Catholic-Protestant power-sharing. Disarmament by the IRA and Protestant loyalist paramilitaries was to move forward on an independent track. But unionist leader David Trimble, fending off militant unionist challenges to his leadership and abetted by dodgy language from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, began insisting that the IRA disarm before its Sinn Fein allies could take their elected seats. By the June 30 deadline for forming the new governing body, Trimble had painted himself into a corner.

The real culprit is a unionist political vocabulary built since the turn of the century on the slogan "Ulster Says No." To the unionist siege mentality-of people who command a political majority and make up 93 percent of the police but whose power is eroding with Catholic population growth-every compromise by Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein is, in Trimble's words, a "con job."

Yet by the end of June Sinn Fein had made an extraordinary commitment to "persuading those with arms to decommission them in accordance with the Agreement." And the IRA itself has sustained its cease-fire in the face of escalating attacks by loyalist paramilitaries, who have staged at least forty-five pipe-bombings against Catholics since January, as well as the bombing murders of civil rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson and Elizabeth O'Neill, a Protestant married to a Catholic. …

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