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Peace in Northern Ireland Too? : Despite violence, hope remains for Englishmen and Irishmen of goodwill

December 25, 1991

Despite violence, hope remains for Englishmen and Irishmen of goodwill Today Christians round the world recall the angels' song: "Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to men of goodwill." Will Protestants and Catholics ever sing that song together in Northern Ireland?

The Irish Republican Army took this Christmas season as occasion for a sustained and costly series of attacks on British targets. The National Gallery was bombed. Railroad attacks kept hundreds of thousands of Englishmen at home at a cost in disruption of $80 million. On Dec. 12, 66 people were injured when a police station was bombed in Craigavon, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. (A Catholic school was destroyed in the same attack.) Call these attacks reasons to despair.

There are also reasons to hope. The battle for Northern Ireland is only accidentally a Protestant-Catholic battle. Protestants and Catholics coexist amicably in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Even in Northern Ireland, neither Protestants nor Catholics aim at religious conversion of their opponents; and in the worst of times, there are no attacks on church buildings. The president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, is a Catholic married to a Protestant. Relations between Charles J. Haughey, Ireland's chief of state, and John Major, Britain's prime minister, are notably cordial--in sharp contrast to Haughey's relations with Margaret Thatcher. On Dec. 5, the two leaders agreed to a semiannual summit meeting on Northern Ireland.

Little by little, Ireland and Britain are admitting, first, that Northern Ireland is a political problem and, second, that it cannot be solved by either country alone. This concession in principle has meant various concessions in practice. Thus, during the last year, Britain has freed a number of Irish prisoners, admitting that they were falsely convicted. Last month, in a comparable move, Ireland agreed to close legal loopholes that IRA fugitives had used to avoid extradition.

Peace will not come next Christmas, or the Christmas after that, but, for Englishmen and Irishmen of goodwill, it may, despite everything, be dimly in view.

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