|AN IRISH PEACE?
Will the new peace deal hold?
April 17, 1998
in this forum:
So who won in the peace talks? Will this improve relations between Catholic and Protestants? Will the deal really stop the violence? Will the different structures in the peace deal really work together? How will the release of political prisoners impact the stability in the region? How institutionalized have the "Troubles" become? A question from Mike Phelps of New York, NY: There is much talk of this deal bringing peace to the region, but what is the likelihood of the radical groups accepting anything less than total victory for their side? Do you really think that extremist Republicans and Loyalists will put down their arms because some politicians want peace?
Dr. Joseph Thompson, former State Department Scholar-Diplomat for Irish Affairs, responds:
Total military victory for republicans or loyalists is not possible for several reasons. First, neither side has the weapons or manpower to attain a total military win against the magnitude of the UK military forces. Second, extreme republicans and loyalists had the rug pulled out from under them when the IRA and the Combined Loyalist Military Commands initiated a cease-fire. The IRA recognized the futility of violence several years ago when they made covert contact with the British Government to end the violence, and the loyalists groups have always stated that their violence was a reaction to republican violence. Third, community support is necessary for successful urban warfare. This support would evaporate if or when the new agreement is ratified by the electorate of Northern Ireland.
The decommissioning of arms is a very essential and delicate element of the agreement. Republicans and loyalists have indicated that political progress will be the measure by which they will approach the decommissioning of their weapons. No one expects the extreme groups to put down any arms. In fact, they will attempt to cause greater violence to disrupt the process. But all negotiating groups have indicated that this expected violence will not deter them from pushing ahead with the new agreement referendum.
Dr. John Darby, of the University of Ulster, responds:
It remains to be seen how much violence will be used by those opposed to the agreement. Although Protestants may be generally more discontented with the compromises, the return to violence by republicans may be the greatest threat to the agreement. Some level of violence had continued even during the negotiations, and two parties (including Sinn Fein) were suspended from participation in the talks for a time for alleged association with it. It seems probable that some fundamentalist republicans will see the agreement as a betrayal of their mission to unify Ireland, and return to arms. The question is, how many? If Sinn Fein can carry the support of the majority of republicans, including the IRA, as they have managed to accomplish so far, the violence may be controllable. The loyalist paramilitary organisations are unlikely to return to arms, at least in a systematic way, unless republican violence grows significantly and is targeted towards the Protestant community.