Hopes for long-term reconciliation between Roman Catholics and
Protestants were dealt a blow Monday, as Northern Ireland's power-
sharing government was put on ice and Britain resumed ruling this
This latest, and most serious, political crisis underlines the
difficulty of finding a path to lasting peace.
Although no one expects a return to the height of the bloody 30-
year period here known as The Troubles, police here are warning that
the threat from dissident guerrilla groups - both Loyalist (who want
to retain the link with Britain) and Republican (who want a single,
united Ireland) - is higher now than at any stage since 1994
Even a temporary return of British rule is distressing to most
Catholics, while Protestants appear divided.
"Having locally elected ministers is far more dignified and
democratic than having people ruling us from England who know little
and probably care even less about us," says Eileen Howell, director
of the Falls Community Council in mainly Catholic west Belfast. "We
feel frustrated, angry - and very, very hurt because we put an awful
lot of effort into making this work."
But Stuart McCartney, a Protestant community worker in a working-
class area of north Belfast, says opinion there is split.
Some are disappointed because "they feel we had made great
strides forwards, because we want local government, run by local
But others, he said, hail Britain's return and point fingers at
Sinn Fein, the Catholic political party at the center of the scandal
that triggered the crisis. "Both sides have to play honestly ...
even children playing games understand that, and a commonality is
that people don't think Sinn Fein were playing by the rules."
The spying scandal broke after an Oct. 4 police raid on the homes
of four supporters of Sinn Fein, widely regarded as the political
wing of the IRA, a clandestine Catholic paramilitary force. Police
say they found documents including potential IRA targets ranging
from prison officers to the British army commander here - and
confidential communications between Britain and other parties in the
Northern Ireland peace process. The four have since been charged.
The scandal prompted a threat by the pro-British Ulster Unionist
Party to walk out in protest of Sinn Fein's continued participation
in government. To keep the power-sharing effort from unraveling,
London stepped in Monday - for the fourth time since February 2000.
Power sharing between Catholics and Protestants was the
centerpiece of the Good Friday peace agreement, signed here in 1998.
For many Protestants, the current scandal, which some here call
the "Irish Watergate," is proof that Sinn Fein was never serious
about the peace process.
Many Catholics say that they suspect that the raid was a set-up,
and that the Protestant side was never genuinely committed to
Brian Feeney, college lecturer and author of "Sinn Fein - A
Hundred Turbulent Years" says it's as though the Protestant and
Catholic communities are living in "two parallel universes. …