Northern Ireland Talks Facing Huge Obstacles
Compromise is the official goal when Northern Ireland leaders sit down for political talks under U.S. supervision today. But the most stubborn figures will have the strongest voices.
Prime ministers John Major of Britain and John Bruton of Ireland will open the talks on Northern Ireland’s future, then hand over the chair to President Clinton’s Northern Ireland adviser, former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine.
The talks mark the first time an American has led peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army has pushed for a quarter-century to unite the province, and its mostly pro-British Protestant residents, with the Republic of Ireland.
Patience may be Mitchell’s only weapon.
“There’s no point in pretending that this is not a deeply divided community,” said John Alderdice, leader of the only Northern Ireland party with both Catholic and Protestant support. “Both will talk about compromise, but neither is prepared to do it. The problem is: Both sides still think they can win.”
Mitchell is to oversee consensus-building among nine parties - or 10, if the IRA calls a cease-fire. Without one, the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party will be barred from the talks.
All 10 groups won places at the talks in a May 30 vote which showed support rising for the two most stubborn parties - Sinn Fein on the minority Catholic side and Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists on the majority Protestant side.
Getting agreement will be extremely difficult.
“Imagine if, in America, you required the Democratic Party, the Republicans, Ross Perot, every minority interest group and every neo-Nazi backwoods militia to agree every time the government wanted to do something,” Alderdice said. “That’s what is being asked here, with every faction being given veto power.”
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