Congratulatory spirit sweeps Irish Republic Overwhelming mandate generates nationwide sense of unity and joy


DUBLIN, Ireland -- From Dublin on the Irish Sea to rocky Connemara and Galway Bay in the west, from Cork in the south to Dundalk near the border with Northern Ireland, people in the Irish Republic congratulated themselves and their northern neighbors yesterday on the overwhelming vote for the Northern Ireland peace agreement in Friday's referendum.

"It's a great day for Ireland," words repeated over and over across this country of 3.5 million, became an instant and joyous national cliche, reflecting as well satisfaction that the agreement was convincingly approved in a separate referendum in the British province.

"There's not going to be dancing in the streets," said Lucy McKeever, an official of the Abbey Theater. "But it's as if everybody is of one mind for once."

She said the vote was a message to the Irish Republican Army, which for 30 years has used guerrilla warfare to force Britain out of the north, that "we have moved on, and violence is not the way."

She noted that the voters had approved the abandonment of the republic's constitutional claim to sovereignty in the north.

"It was so stupid," she said of that claim. "It was never as if we were going to seize the north."

Michael Simonds, owner of a bookstore in the suburban town of Dalkey, said: "It's fantastic. It shows that the vast majority wants peace."

As the vote was counted yesterday, Irish national television quoted election officials as saying that the result would show that more than 90 percent in the republic had approved the agreement. It promises the Roman Catholic minority in the north greater political power and is intended to give the overwhelmingly Catholic Irish Republic more influence in predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland.

Everyone called the results historic, and most said it promised hope of a lasting peace in the British-ruled province, where more than 3,200 people have been killed in 30 years of sectarian warfare.

The first public official to say, "It's a great day for Ireland," on an early morning radio program, was Mary O'Rourke, a legislator representing Longford, County Westmeath. "It's also a great day for democracy," she added.

But she acknowledged, with other Irish officials and experts, that the vote was only a first step toward lasting peace, and that many obstacles remained.

Fergus Finlay, a former senior official in the Irish Foreign Affairs Department who spent four years negotiating with the British government on Northern Ireland, said of the vote: "It's beyond people's wildest expectations. There's a new way of doing things. They've built a new platform."

But, he added, the first dangerous test will come at the end of June, the season for Protestant parades in the North. These marches have sparked violence in recent years.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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