Luck o' the Irish and untiring efforts at all levels must converge to salvage the tenuous peace accord in Northern Ireland. Both sides have progressed too far to let obstinate hard-liners initiate further violence in the province. But attaining and preserving tranquility will not be an easy task.
Protestant marchers in Portadown, Northern Ireland, insisted on marching along the Catholic Garvaghy Road last weekend. They encountered unbending police barricades, erected to prevent recurrences of serious problems in years past. The result was was a tragic return to burning, looting and rioting.Catholics see the marches, celebrations of Protestant victory at the Battle of Boyne in 1690, as arrogant displays designed to reinforce their minority status in Northern Ireland. Protestants claim a fundamental right to march. A Parades Commission tried to mediate the dispute earlier this year without success. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and President Clinton unsuccessfully pushed a negotiated settlement.
Following the recent referendum favoring a cooperative government linking the north with the Republic of Ireland to the south, it was evident the greatest likelihood of its undoing rested on the shoulders of hard-line Protestants. Only a slight majority of the north's Protestant community favored the peace process, paving the way for a difficult fight for control of Northern Ireland's new multiparty government.
While there is no need for finger-pointing, only reasonable compromise, it doesn't help to have Rev. Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist Party committed to undermining the peace agreement. In the words of one, "Orangemen can't compromise."
Such unbending thinking is unfortunate. Principled convictions are admirable until they cross the line in advocation of violence, which has occurred for centuries in the Irish conflict on both sides. Yet it is time to leave the bloody past behind and unite in creating a new future for Northern Ireland. The current peace accord offers the best hope of doing so.