Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Political Breakthrough on N. Ireland Revives Hopes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Political Breakthrough on N. Ireland Revives Hopes

Article excerpt

MARGARET THATCHER'S Northern Ireland trouble-shooter has achieved a goal that has eluded British governments since the province's troubles erupted more than 20 years ago.

Peter Brooke has won the agreement of Northern Ireland's Protestant and Roman Catholic politicians to sit down together and try to work out a new political settlement for the violence-stricken province - and to allow the Dublin government to play a part in the effort.

Mr. Brooke's success in obtaining the agreement of the leaders of the two religious communities to come together for talks, to be held in the autumn, was announced on May 28 after he held discussions in the Irish capital of Dublin with Irish Foreign Minister Gerry Collins.

The announcement coincided with four killings by the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) in England and the Netherlands. But a British official said after the murders that the IRA's accelerated campaign of violence was a sign of its "alarm and frustration" that Brooke had achieved a significant political breakthrough that held out the promise of peace in Northern Ireland.

Brooke has spent the 10 months since Mrs. Thatcher appointed him as secretary for Northern Ireland holding secret talks with Northern Ireland's leading political parties and the Dublin government.

He said last week: "We have reached a certain degree of consensus. We have not set precise deadlines or timetables, but I am hopeful that very soon now we can begin to make progress."

An official in Brooke's Belfast office added: "We can speak of tightly controlled optimism."

In a planned first phase of talks, Brooke, the Protestant Unionists, and the Roman Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party will draw up an agenda for a larger conference. Its task would be to examine ways of replacing direct rule of Northern Ireland from London with a system of devolved regional government.

The second phase would consist of a larger conference in which Britain and the Northern Ireland parties were joined by representatives from the Irish Republic. These talks would go into the detail of constructing a form of regional government for Northern Ireland, including a democratically elected assembly.

Brooke's achievement is to have obtained the agreement of the Rev. Ian Paisley and James Molyneaux, the leaders of Northern Ireland's two Unionist parties, to hold talks at which the Dublin government would be represented. In the past they have consistently refused to do so on the grounds that Dublin has no right to influence the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Their aversion to the Irish Republic, which formally favors a united Ireland, has also been at the root of their refusal to take part in the Anglo-Irish agreement signed by London and Dublin in 1985 to promote a Northern Ireland political settlement.

Until now, Britain has been under pressure from the Unionists to abandon the agreement. …

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