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Ulster hopes

By V. Venkatesan

IT is no treaty in itself, nor is it a guarantee of amity. Yet, the joint declaration on the future of Northern Ireland, issued last fortnight by British Prime Minister John Major and his Irish counterpart Albert Reynolds, raised hopes of an end to the conflict over the province.

The December 15 "framework for peace" outlined proposals to end the violence in Ulster and settle the political fate of the Protestant-majority region, to which the Constitution of the Catholic-majority Republic of Ireland makes territorial claims. Both sides went that biblical extra mile in their quest for permanent peace. Major said that his Government would support whatever a majority there decided--even a reunification with the south, an improbable eventuality. He also offered to open "exploratory" talks with Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Catholic-backed Irish Republican Army, if the latter halted its campaign against British rule. In turn, Reynolds reassured northeners, particularly the nine lakh Protestants, they would be treated fairly in a united Ireland.

But ultimately, the success of the declaration depends on factors outside its signatories' control. One test was whether the IRA would renounce terrorism and give peace a chance. The group declared its customary Christmas ceasefire, but did not immediately respond to the package. Also crucial is whether the terms offered to the IRA will be acceptable to the Protestant Unionists in the province. Yet, hope lingers. n

(Published in Frontline, January 14, 1994)

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