The return of the Protestant marching season finds Northern Ireland more troubled than ever.
The three-track talks involving political parties that Britain and Ireland promoted last year are virtually dead. A new generation of Protestant terrorists eluding British attempts at suppression has revived the truism of two decades ago that they are meaner, deadlier, more intractable than the IRA.
The IRA has had more success than ever in causing mayhem in England, particularly car-bombings in the London financial district. As a result, that area has restricted access of cars in a way that brings Belfast-like security arrangements to London and crimps the tourism and financial trade. This achievement of terrorism has nothing to do with unifying Ireland and does not indicate popular support, but it requires only a few dedicated terrorists. It is what the IRA does best.
In the slums of Belfast, where British law is suspect and all but invisible, the population suffers under the kangaroo courts and knee-capping justice of the IRA goon squads among the Catholics and counterparts among the Protestants. But no respite is at hand and the intractability of Unionist and Democratic Unionist politicians among the Protestants assures that provincial home rule cannot be restored in the near future.
The Irish Republic's president, Mary Robinson, and deputy prime minister, Dick Spring, managed to undo their appeal to Ulster's majority. Mrs. Robinson met leaders of Sinn Fein, the visible political face of the IRA. Mr. Spring, in a warning to Protestant intransigents, suggested a London-Dublin joint administration. He had not tried the idea on his British negotiating partners first. It can hardly have been intended to do more than provoke, which it did.
Joint administration within the European Community might make sense long range. But first leaders of the Irish Republic must woo Northern Protestants, disarm their suspicions, address their fears, reassure them and find common cause. Threatening the Protestant majority is so crudely counter-productive that those who do it, whether the IRA with assassinations or Dick Spring with threatening proposals, are suspect. Maybe they are so intimidated by the myths of Ulster Protestant power that they want to avoid unification at all costs, so long as they can blame the Protestants and London for the perpetual split.