|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 Susan Thomas of Mauldin, SC: I have two questions: First, with all the institutional and organizational creation going on in the current accord, what, if anything, is the basis for thinking all the parts will work together toward the desired outcomes? and Second, with all the discussion of fears of violence, where, if at all, is any consideration in the proposal given to the handling of violence? Thanks!
Dr. John Darby, of the University of Ulster, responds:
The agreement simply sets the boundaries for further discussions. In that respect it resembles the first set of rules that were initially drawn up to regulate a sport like baseball or football; they borrow ideas from rules drawn for other sports, and they will be modified and have new rules added in the light of experience. So the rules of engagement have been set down, and further developments will depend on how relationships work within them. This is not an insignificant development, but there can be no guarantees that the parts will work together.
The second question is an important one. Northern Ireland has just entered the annual ‘marching season', during which there have been flare-ups of sectarian tension in the last three years. A Parades Commission has now been established to determine which parades will be allowed to march, and which must divert their marches to avoid offending local populations. It is too early to judge how effective the Commission will be.
The most serious challenge to the agreement, however, may come from dissident republican paramilitants, which must ultimately be handled normally by the police and courts. A major problem here is the need to reform the police force, which is dominantly Protestant and does not have the confidence of many Catholics. These reforms will be an early priority in the continuing peace process, and will be a major cause for dispute between Unionists and Nationalists.
Dr. Joseph Thompson, former State Department Scholar-Diplomat for Irish Affairs, responds:
At the end of 1973 England held a special conference to address the Northern Ireland crisis. This Sunningdale Conference invited government representatives from Britain, Ireland and eleven Executive Assemblymen from Northern Ireland (6 unionists, 4 nationalists and 1 nonpartisan) to establish a new political framework for Northern Ireland. Their final agreement can be summarized in the following five points:
1) There needed to be an Irish nationalist dimension to the Northern Ireland governance structure,
2) Majority consent was necessary for any changes in the province,
3) A Council of Ireland would be formed with members from the north and south,
4) Cross-border security and courts would be implemented,
5) Britain would then return the governance of the province to Belfast.
But the trust and belief that these structures would work were beyond the grasp of the people of Northern Ireland. and the Sunningdale Agreement fell apart in 1974.
After 25 years of more violence and killing, the people of Northern Ireland now believe they have had enough. They are ready to trust that the current resurrection of the Sunningdale spirit will work in the April 1998 Agreement. The only minor change in the above five points is number 3, now called the British-Irish Council which will include representatives from London, Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Therefore, because all groups at the negotiating table have discussed every point in the document and agreed to sign the April 1998 Agreement, these actions speak for themselves--all parts are working together toward the desired outcomes.
There are several points in the April 1998 Agreement which seek to control possible future violence. Upon the ratification of the agreement, a separate commission will be established to deal with human rights issues of Northern Ireland, especially the impact of violence on the communities. Another separate commission will be established to address the question of the Royal Ulster Constabulary police force which has too often been accused of association with community violence. The proposed prisoner release program will work only for those groups which agree to the cease-fire, and if violence occurs in the future the released prisoners will be recalled (in violation in parole) to finish out the full term of their sentence.