Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ulster Peace Moves Raise Shaky Hopes A Community Riven by Sectarian Conflict Receives News of Secret British-IRA Talks with Apprehension

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ulster Peace Moves Raise Shaky Hopes A Community Riven by Sectarian Conflict Receives News of Secret British-IRA Talks with Apprehension

Article excerpt

THE war-weary people of Northern Ireland have rarely witnessed so much high political drama or experienced such a mixture of hope and anxiety as they have done in the past few days.

Revelations that the British government has maintained "secret contacts" with the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) have astonished and disturbed many of the province's 1 million Protestants - most of whom favor retaining the link with Britain. Some, however, believe that such contacts, though duplicitous in the face of Britain's denials of IRA contacts, will be justified if they bring peace. Meanwhile, the half million Roman Catholics in Ulster, most of whom favor uniting Ireland by peaceful means, approve of any methods that would bring peace, even if it involves talking to terrorists on both sides.

The British government said Nov. 30 it would keep open its newly disclosed channels to the IRA, while calling on the terrorist group to lay down its arms. Exploratory talks with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, could begin within 10 weeks of the IRA calling a cease-fire, British officials said.

The plethora of peace initiatives in the past few weeks is so complicated that even experienced political observers here have difficulty keeping pace with events. Ordinary citizens, who receive their information mostly through the news media, are bewildered, hopeful, and apprehensive. The bewilderment is easy to understand.

First, there have been the talks between John Hume, leader of the mainly Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, which favors Irish unity by peaceful means, and Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein. Mr. Hume claims that if Britain acts upon the recommendations of these talks, there will be "peace within a week."

Second, there are ongoing discussions between the British and Irish governments, which have not accepted the Hume-Adams recommendations formally, but seem to have incorporated some of their points in a joint communique issued in Brussels in October. …

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