February 23, 1996 ............... EDITORIAL

page 24

Most reports of the recent London bombing, not surprisingly, focused on the Irish Republican Army.

The IRA has admitted to the bombing, which killed two people and injured many others. As such, it was an act of terrorism that ought to be roundly condemned, and has been. Armagh's Cardinal Cahal Daly called it "morally evil and gravely sinful."

But to condemn the IRA and then get on with our lives would be unfair and even irresponsible.

The IRA bomb was not set in a vacuum.

The IRA surprised the world, 17 months ago, by declaring a unilateral cease-fire that brought peace to Northern Ireland after a brutal quarter-century of death and destruction.

The world rejoiced. Many sought and received credit for their role in bringing this peace about. They included the London and Dublin governments; individuals such as John Hume, a key broker of the cease-fire, and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams; also President Clinton.

A cease-fire, however, is not peace. A difficult process was embarked upon. It called for compromise and trust in a land where little trust remained.

Politics is too often selfish and mean, while peacemaking calls for the big gesture and generous concession.

There was widespread understanding that all-party talks, including Sinn Fein, would begin within months of the cease-fire. This assumption was not IRA pie in the sky — elaborate secret conversations between all sides had preceded the cease-fire. As the months passed, however, London bowed to increasing political pressure from Northern Ireland Unionists.

This went beyond sentiment to raw politics. British Prime Minister John Major, widely regarded as a weak and vulnerable politician, needs the votes of Ulster's Unionists to pursue his policies and even to stay in office

Bowing to such pressure, Major has been insisting on various conditions before allowing Sinn Fein to participate in talks.

[cardinal] Daly said in his post-bomb statement.

The most intractable precondition was the disarming of the IRA. Reports seldom mention that the Protestant/Unionist extremist faction was not being similarly asked to disarm.

History shows that such cycles of violence are broken only when leaders take risks — South Africa is an example. History also shows that peace takes hold only when the fighting factions, too, are actually involved in the process — as in the Middle East, Bosnia and South Africa.

However much the IRA may have dominated the headlines of terror for 25 years, it must be said that they came to this fray reluctantly. In 1969, those previously associated with the IRA joined in the Martin Luther King inspired nonviolent civil rights movement. When, about 1970, Protestant extremists, inspired by the Rev. Ian Paisley, were burning down entire Catholic enclaves in Belfast, Catholics looked around for protection and there was none. An early IRA leader, Sean MacStiofain, wrote later of a few diehard Republicans holding a “convention” to ascertain the state of the IRA "movement," as it used to be called. But, he went on, "we discovered there was no movement."

This is the kind of background that seldom creeps into media reports usually regurgitated from a public relations arena in which Britain is king. Neither is it mentioned that during the intervening years of strife, job discrimination against Catholics has grown steadily worse, although the housing situation has significantly improved. Nor, for that matter, is it usually explained that the job discrimination might not always be a matter of ill will; it is frequently a matter of blunt demographics in a province where a half-century of gerrymandering has left a skewed legacy of inequality, not to mention suspicion and even hate.

It is now clear that many in the IRA did not want this cease-fire in the first place. That means those who created the cease-fire, including Adams, took a risk. As did many others, perhaps including Major at the time. To continue to falter now would set the stage for a massive breakdown in goodwill. The moment calls for actions louder than the words.

It is no secret that, without U.S. involvement, this peace would not have happened. Ironically, a decisive moment in the progress to date came when Clinton refused London's request to ban Adams' entry into the United States; Clinton's predecessors would have gone along with Britain's longtime claim that Northern Ireland was a "domestic" matter.

Clinton's emissary, George Mitchell, headed a commission that submitted a report recommending, among other things, that Britain begin the all-party talks, including Sinn Fein, without prior disarmament. Major implicitly, at least, rejected this, recommended new Northern Ireland elections instead — the latest "obstacle," which became the catalyst or excuse for the more belligerent IRA faction to break the peace.

So many are dead. So many have suffered so much. There is a chance to resume the peace now. If it is thrown away, it could mean another entire generation of death and pain. This is no time for selfish politics.