"BETTER LATE THAN NEVER"
April 9, 1998
Even though the deadline has expired, the Irish peace talks in Belfast continue. The parties must devise a plan that will satisfy the Catholics who want Northern Ireland to join the republic, and Protestants who want it to remain under British rule. After this background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to two reporters about the latest developments and the prospects for peace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: First tonight, deadline day in the Northern Ireland peace talks. We begin with some background.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 9, 1998
Two reporters discuss the latest developments in the Irish peace process.
March 17, 1998
P.M. Bertie Ahern discusses efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
August 4, 1997
Northern Ireland peace talks are scheduled to resume in September.
July 21, 1997
Ireland: More Steps Toward Peace.
February 12, 1996
An IRA bomb shatters the 18 month ceasefire.
The Greening of the White House: a look at U.S. - Northern Ireland relations.
Northern Ireland Peace Talks.
Is peace possible in Northern Ireland?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Europe.
Some 3200 Protestants and Catholics have been killed in Northern Ireland since 1969; and even now, violence continues, despite peace talks and a cease-fire. On one side of what's called "troubles" are Irish Republicans and Nationalists from a wide array of groups, including the clandestine Irish Republican Army. The IRA fights in the name of Northern Ireland's Catholic minority. Its aim is to end centuries of British rule so that the six counties of Northern Ireland--also known as Ulster--can join the Irish republic. The island was split after the South achieved independence from Britain in 1920.
On the other side of the fight are the groups representing the Protestant majority, also including armed guerrillas. Fearful of losing their privileges and identity, these groups--often called "unionists"--are opposed to a united Ireland and are determined to remain part of Great Britain. After a series of failed attempts to negotiate a settlement between the two sides, the prospects of peace for Northern Ireland's 1.6 million people suddenly brightened last May after Tony Blair was elected Britain's prime minister. He faced the Irish troubles head-on.
Tony Blair changed the atmosphere of the peace process.
TONY BLAIR: I am determined to move on. It is essential to make political progress rapidly. The preparation for substantive talks must quicken.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Just a month after Blair's remarks, Sinn Fein, the IRA's above-ground political wing, and the IRA itself, agreed to a cease-fire. Then last September, Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams, for the first time, joined peace talks attended by the Protestant Unionist Party Leader David Trimble and six other political groups representing Catholics and Protestants. Another historic meeting came a month later, when Prime Minister Blair met Gerry Adams behind closed doors during a trip to Belfast.
As the momentum towards an agreement increased, extremists on both sides tried to undermine the progress by continuing the violence. In February, Sinn Fein was temporarily expelled from the peace talks after police in Belfast linked two murders to the IRA. But after meeting with Blair in London, last month, Adams was invited to rejoin the talks for what both the British and Irish governments hoped would be a final push towards a definitive peace agreement.
Chairing the 22-month-old talks is the former Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Maine Democrat George Mitchell. Two weeks ago, Mitchell set today, April 9th, as the deadline for the conclusion of the peace talks. Then he presented a 65 page outline to the party for a possible agreement. Under the plan, which assumes a permanent cease-fire, Northern Ireland would remain a part of Britain. But a degree of self government would be restored to the province, which has been ruled directly from London since 1972. Trying to bridge the gap between unionists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom and nationalists and republicans who want to join the republic to the South. Mitchell reportedly proposed a local assembly for Northern Ireland in which power would be shared by Protestants and Catholics. He also called for a cross border council that would give the republic more of a voice in the North's affairs. Within hours after receiving Mitchell's proposals, the unionists balked.
JEFFREY DONALDSON MP UUP: We have major significant fundamental difficulties with the proposals in this document and people have got to understand that, and if there is to be agreement we have got to agree to it.
The final round of negotiations?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On Tuesday this week, Prime Minister Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern flew to Belfast to lend their weight to the final round of negotiations.
TONY BLAIR: I'm here because I believe it is my duty because if we've got any chance at all at bringing a stable and lasting peace to people in Northern Ireland, we've got to take the chance and leaders should lead and they should be up front when leading.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since then, negotiations have been going on almost non-stop, and they continue tonight.