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Ulster Talks: A Start, However Shaky

June 11, 1996

The long-awaited Northern Ireland peace negotiations got off to a shaky start with one political party threatening to walk out and another being prevented from joining in. But the start, shaky or otherwise, is progress.

The goal is to find a political solution that will end the violence that has taken thousands of lives, many of them innocents, since 1969. The talks will proceed without the presence of representatives of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and colleagues showed up at the gates of Stormont castle near Belfast but were refused entry and told they would not get in until the IRA restored the cease-fire it broke last February. That word came from Britain, Ireland and the United States, the key powers at the talks.

Inside the castle, the Rev. Ian Paisley and other unionist politicians interrupted the opening speech of Ireland's Prime Minister John Bruton to express their opposition to the Irish involvement and threaten a walkout. The pro-British Protestant group also challenged the role of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who was nominated by Britain and Ireland to chair the talks. First round: all talk, little gain.

Mitchell, who did not take part in the opening session, seems to be the broker most participants want, however. Paisley may yet agree, but it's Adams who has to take the big step by demonstrating his belief in the political process as the only way forward. He can prove that by pressing the IRA to restore the cease-fire.

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