National Catholic Register


Northern Irish Negotiations at Crisis Point

BY Jim Cosgrove

August 05-11, 2001 Issue | Posted 8/5/01 at 2:00 PM


DUBLIN, Ireland — Special prayers for politicians were said in parishes and churches of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland July 29 as the Northern Irish political process approaches a critical stage.

Northern Ireland's leading Protestant politician warned July 22 that the troubled province's landmark Good Friday peace accord may not survive its current crisis.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said the failure of the Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitary groups to disarm could jeopardize concerted efforts now underway by British, Irish and Northern Irish leaders to save the 1998 peace deal.

On July 23, suspected Protestant extremists threw a pipe bomb at a Catholic-occupied home southwest of Belfast, the latest in a string of such attempts to intimidate Northern Ireland's minority community. The blast in Derriaghy, a mostly Protestant suburb, injured nobody but blew open the front door and damaged the roof.

Outlawed anti-Catholic groups opposed to the 1998 peace accord have thrown more than 100 pipe bombs and other explosives at Catholic homes and property this year.

Four church leaders requested their congregations to remember in their prayers all those who have serious decisions to make regarding the political future of Northern Ireland.

Catholic Archbishop Sean Brady, primate of Ireland, said, “I encourage all people of good will to reflect on the critical stage we have reached in the peace process, and to pray that God will guide all who have serious political decisions to make at this time. The long-term future and well being of us all is at stake. The political progress made to date must be consolidated and built upon. The very fragile peace we enjoy at present must be strengthened.”

Dr. Alastair Dunlop, the Presbyterian moderator, said, “I want to urge people to pray that God will guide all who have serious political decisions to made at this time. Outbreaks of intercommunity violence continue to occur. Lives and property continue to be damaged. The prayers of God's people for the whole community are a power for good.”

Archbishop Robin Eames, Church of Ireland primate, said, “While prayers are usually said each Sunday in Church of Ireland parishes for elected representatives, I feel we have a clear duty to call on our people to pray that God will guide all those who carry such a heavy responsibility at this time. The violence we are seeing on our streets, where there is such a risk to the lives of the innocent, including little children, must be challenged in God's name.”

The Reverend Harold Good, president of the Methodist Church, said, “In praying for our political representatives, an end to vicious sectarian violence and a lasting peace, let us commit ourselves to being part of the answer to the prayers we pray.”

New Proposals

The London Daily Telegraph reported July 25 that new, non-negotiable proposals to be delivered by the British and Irish governments in an attempt to break the impasse over the Good Friday Agreement would contain major concessions to encourage the Irish Republican Army to disarm.

These could include the transfer of senior Irish police officers into the new police service of Northern Ireland, the appointment of convicted Irish Republican Army terrorists to local police boards and an amnesty for 60 fugitive paramilitaries.

The proposals will concentrate on the outstanding issues of disagreement between the Protestant and Catholic representatives: police reform, the reduction of the British military presence, paramilitary decommissioning and ensuring that the new political institutions remain stable. The proposals were agreed to in principle by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the Telegraph reported.

After six days of talks chaired by Blair and Ahern in mid-July failed to reach agreement between Protestant and Catholics, the two leaders announced they would put forward joint non-negotiable proposals in an attempt to break the impasse.

But Unionist leaders accused both leaders of favoring Catholics in the new proposals.

Sir Reg Empey, the acting First Minister of the Northern Ireland government and a senior Unionist minister in the power-sharing executive, said the issue of paramilitary weapons needed to be addressed properly before his Ulster Unionist Party would support the proposals.

“We remain committed to making the agreement work, but we cannot carry the burden alone,” he said. “We are not prepared to allow Sinn Fein to continue as executive ministers while the IRA continues to break its public promise to decommission its weaponry.

“If the proposed package does not deal with the decommissioning issue effectively, then it is unacceptable.”

The failure of the Irish Republican Army to honor its pledge to disarm has already led to the recent resignation of Trimble as First Minister. And unless agreement can be reached by Aug. 12, the Telegraph reported, the British government will be forced to reimpose direct rule of Northern Ireland from London, or to order fresh elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

(Zenit contributed to this story)