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A blow to Ulster peace.

Byline: The Register-Guard

While the British governor of Northern Ireland is still insisting that it's possible to revive a Catholic-Protestant joint governance of the province, recent election results seem to point in another direction. That's unfortunate, since the ingredients for an attempt at permanent peace in that beautiful but troubled land seemed tantalizingly within reach.

In the elections, the Democratic Unionist Party, presided over by the anti-coalition Rev. Ian Paisley, took a majority of seats on the Protestant side of the Northern Ireland Assembly. On the Catholic side of the assembly, Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, received a majority of the vote over the other - and more conciliatory - Social Democratic and Labor parties.

At stake are the 1998 Good Friday accords brokered by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. Those accords called for the Protestants and Catholics to share political power in Northern Ireland, for both sides to disarm and denounce violence against each other, and for an array of other legal and political reforms.

For the most part - except for periodic armed attacks by splinter groups on both sides - the power-sharing stopped the 30-year war between the Catholic and Protestant factions. For a time, the two sides shared power in the 108-seat national assembly and a permanent peace seemed at hand.

But the power-sharing ended when the British government - Northern Ireland is a British province - suspended the assembly more than a year ago and re-assumed political control when the Protestants complained that the IRA wasn't disarming quickly enough and that it was being too secretive in its operations.

In the voting, Paisley's DUP grabbed 30 seats in the assembly to 27 seats won by moderate David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party. On the Catholic side, Sinn Fein won 24 seats to 18 captured by the coalition-supporting Social Democrats and Labor parties.

Some of the reforms envisioned by the power-sharing arrangement are still in place. A national police force more integrated with Catholic officers - the force was once almost totally dominated by Protestants - remains largely intact. The British have withdrawn many of their troops from Northern Ireland, alleviating some of the anger their presence prompted in the province's Catholic communities. Some of the province's fortress-like security buildings are being dismantled, and commissions geared toward promoting human rights and equality are crafting recommendations that should be translated into laws and national policies.

While the Protestants in Northern Ireland - especially Paisley's group - remain committed to the province continuing under British dominion and the Catholics insist on the province being reunited with the mostly Catholic Republic of Ireland to the south, there remains hope of finding a common ground.

The power-sharing arrangement in the national assembly offered the best hope of finding common ground. The international community, along with the long-suffering citizens of Northern Ireland, should work toward re-establishing that productive arrangement.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Hard-liners prevail in election
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 8, 2003
Previous Article:A timely inquiry.
Next Article:Measure's loss would ensure long-term costs.

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