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Change in Ireland’s Constitution Seen as Hope For Northern Ireland Settlement

BY Jim Cosgrove

March 15-21, 1998 Issue | Posted 3/15/98 at 1:00 PM

 

DUBLIN—Abolishing Ireland's constitutional claim on Northern Ireland, which is currently under British rule, would form a major part of any settlement arising from the current peace talks between the province's main political parties and the Irish and British governments.

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews hinted March 5 that a referendum on the settlement proposals is likely to take place north and south of the border on May 22. Among the issues put to the people will be an amendment to the Irish constitution that will effectively scrap the territorial claims made in articles two and three.

Article two, which states “the national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and territorial waters,” grants automatic Republic of Ireland citizenship to all those born in Northern Ireland. In its place, Mr. Andrews is proposing a clause that would guarantee Irish citizenship to those born in the north, but which would not describe unification as a national objective.

Such a move would be a major concession to Unionists and Loyalists, who support continued British rule in Northern Ireland and are deeply suspicious of the Dublin government because of the Irish constitution's territorial claim. However, it remains to be seen if the proposal would get the approval of the electorate, as recent opinion polls show a majority favoring the retention of articles two and three as they stand.

The peace talks were due to gain new momentum on March 9 when Sinn Fein [pronounced shin-fain] was to return to the negotiation table. Sinn Fein is the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Northern Ireland's largest and most active terrorist group. They were ejected from the talks in mid-February after the IRA broke their cease-fire and murdered two people in Belfast at the beginning of the month.

The village of Poyntzpass in County Armagh came to a standstill on March 6 for the funerals of two youths, one Catholic and one Protestant, who were murdered by Loyalist terrorists March 3. The masked gunmen burst into the bar, demanded that the occupants lie on the floor and then opened fire on them with machine guns. Two others were injured in the attack.

The deaths of Catholic Damien Trainor and his Protestant friend Philip Allen were made all the more poignant when their families announced that Philip had been planning to marry this year and had asked Damien to be his best man. Their friendship since childhood was typical of the reputation Poyntzpass enjoys for strong cross community relations. Members of both the Trainor and Allen families helped carry the coffins of the two men to their funeral services.

At the Requiem Mass for Damien, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh called the murderers “frenzied killers” and said that Northern Ireland's future was now at a crossroads. He asked: “Are we going to travel along the road where the bomb and the bullet are boss, or are we going to turn on the road to genuine peace that is built on strong foundations like the friendship of Damien and Philip?”

At Philip's funeral service, the Presbyterian Moderator Sam Hutchinson called the attack “a reckless atrocity” and called on politicians on all sides to redouble their efforts for peace. Hutchinson warned: “History will be a very stern judge of those who let slip the opportunity to build a lasting settlement.” (Cian Molloy)

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