Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Northern Ireland: A Pause in the Process

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Northern Ireland: A Pause in the Process

Article excerpt

IT is clear by now that there will be no continuation of last year's three-strand "talks about talks" about the future of Northern Ireland before the British general election, which could come as late as July.

But officials at Westminster are feeling modestly hopeful again about the prospects for a negotiated resolution of the conflict.

The very meeting Jan. 27 at which it became clear that talks were on hold for the near term also produced a communique reaffirming the support of the main constitutional parties "for a process of talks." The party leaders also, according to the communique, "recalled the talks which took place between the parties in June and July last year and reaffirmed the view that these had produced genuine dialogue and provided a firm foundation for further substantive exchanges in due course."

This language was far more positive toward negotiations than Westminster officials had feared. They may not have a bird in hand, but they have their eye firmly on two birds in the bush.

The June and July talks were scheduled to conclude by mid-July; much of the 10-week period allotted for them was consumed with wrangling over procedural matters, including choice of venue, and so less was accomplished than had been hoped. But, as with the Middle East conference in Madrid, how much was accomplished was less remarkable than that it occurred at all.

Officials of both the London and the Dublin governments are pleased to point out that the talks concluded "without recriminations" and in a way that left the door open for talking again - as the recent communique seems to have further confirmed.

The aim of the talks has been to come to some other arrangement for the six counties of Northern Ireland, which are part of the United Kingdom. The mostly Protestant unionists, who favor retaining the link with Britain, have over the years so excluded the mostly Catholic nationalists from government that the resulting sectarian strife led Westminster to conclude that direct rule from London was the only way to keep Catholics from being completely shut out. A comparable situation in the United States would be for a state to be administered directly from Washington - by the Department of the Interior, for instance. …

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