Steps are finally being taken toward peace in Northern Ireland. The world ought to hope that this time those steps are sincere.
For the first time since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 pro-British unionists and Catholic nationalists are meeting to discuss the political future of the province.Their agendas vary widely but the fact they're using debate and not violence to punctuate their feelings is significant as well as historic.
Peace will not be easily attained and the deadline set by the British and Irish governments to have an agreement by next May could be unrealistic given the deep convictions of the various parties in the negotiations. But it was unrealistic just a few months ago to think that members of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's political ally, would be under the same roof with representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party, Ulster's largest Protestant political group.
The parties in the negotiations need to focus on the future and not the wrongdoings of the past. There is plenty of blame on all sides. It's time to move forward.
The people of Northern Ireland want peace. The leaders of the warring factions seem to finally realize that, which is why there are breakthrough negotiations. The people, as evidenced by a poll in the Belfast Telegraph that overwhelmingly favored all parties taking part in the talks, have convinced the unionists and nationalists that they don't want to return to violence.
That development plus the determination of the British and Irish governments to change Northern Ireland's political structure, spurred the IRA to call for a cease-fire in July.
Predictably the initial positions of the negotiators are hard-line - Sinn Fein and its allies are calling for a united Ireland while the pro-British unions are determined that Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom. Just as predictable are the attempts by some radical factions to halt the negotiations - a letter bomb was sent to an Ulster Unionist delegate Tuesday. Fortunately it was defused.
Compromises, of course, will have to be made just as they were made when Israel and Egypt made their historic agreement in 1979 at Camp David.
The time is right to capitalize on the good faith efforts of the pro-British unionists and the Catholic nationalists. The people of Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom have suffered the ravages of terrorism far too long.
Peace is attainable. If the various factions put as much effort into finding a peaceful solution as they have trying to sabotage one another, they will achieve it.