Framework for Hope in Ireland


The agreement between the British and Irish governments on a framework for peace in Northern Ireland states with clarity principles that have governed the struggle for decades without being so candidly put. Conditions have never been better for the contemplated political initiatives to succeed.

It is not the might of the British government that keeps Northern Ireland out of the Irish Republic, but the refusal of most Ulster Protestants to go in. The Irish state is not capable or willing to hold them against their will. Attempts to coerce them can only be counter-productive. To be won, they must be wooed. If Irish people don't want them as fellow citizens in the fullest sense, they should admit it and get comfortable with separate identities. If they do want unity, they should pursue it.

The agreement contains code language designed to mollify groups ranging from the Irish Republican Army to the Ulster Unionists. Thus, London agrees that "it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone. . . to exercise their right of self-determination." And Dublin confirms that this "must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland . . ."

The British reiterate that "they have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland." The Irish renounce "any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant minority of those governed by it." Because this has always been true, the terror campaign of the IRA by bombs and guns does not bring Irish unity but postpones it.

The agreement has omissions to disappoint both Irish Republicans and Ulster Unionists. London does not agree to push Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic. Dublin would amend its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland only at the end of a political settlement, not as a show of good faith.

The framework proclaims that both Irishness and Britishness must be approved identities in Northern Ireland whatever the status of the place. This would govern any new effort to achieve provincial self-government within the United Kingdom and referendums to test the will of the people on changing that.

When Israel and the PLO can make peace, and South Africa's Nationalists and ANC work together, the world has little patience with refusal in Northern Ireland, where the differences are so much less. Both countries are linked by history, language, currency, geography and the European Union. Both have democratic institutions. Prime Ministers John Major of Britain and Albert Reynolds of Ireland are doing their best to make peace possible in Northern Ireland, too.

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