A real chance for peace
SIX months of peace have had a powerful impact on ordinary people in Northern Ireland. A groundswell of support for the peace process has finally isolated extremist gunmen and politicians, which may explain the apparent reluctance of anyone of significance to consign the document to the dustbin of history. The Reverend Ian Paisley, for example, one of Ulster's most unyielding Protestant leaders, has attacked the document as a sellout, but neither he, nor anyone else, has yet suggested breaking off discussions. In launching the document, British Prime Minister John Major, and his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, appealed directly to the people of Northern Ireland.
Of course, the document appears unacceptable to many people in Ireland, North and South. When people believe passionately in a cause - and their friends, relatives and comrades have died for that cause - compromise can appear kin to betrayal. The troubles have claimed more than 3,100 lives since 1969, and the economic cost has been enormous. However, there is nothing in the document that should make it unacceptable to Republicans or Loyalists, and both sides should focus on what unites them, not what tears them apart.
The document attempts to encourage such a focus while avoiding bland prescriptions for peace. Loyalists dislike the proposal for some form of cross-border elected body with executive functions, a proposal that appears designed to head off Catholic demands for a united Ireland. However, in return for that vague proposal, Dublin has agreed to drop its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland.
The give-and-take that any form of compromise necessarily involves should not be characterised as surrender. Indeed, it is the voices of hatred on both sides who have allowed gunmen to set the agenda for Northern Ireland, and the new framework offers a chance for peace with justice, something the province has never enjoyed.