British Official Sees Talks as ‘New Beginning’ in Ulster
Britain’s top official in Northern Ireland announced to Parliament on Tuesday that the British and Irish governments have agreed to talks with Ulster’s main political parties to establish stability in the troubled province.
In describing what some called the biggest political breakthrough on British-ruled Ulster in 15 years, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke told members of Parliament: “We are setting out to achieve a new beginning for relations within Northern Ireland.”
Kevin McNamara, the opposition Labor Party’s spokesman on Ulster, congratulated Brooke and said: “We are at a historic moment. There is now a window of opportunity where possibilities for political settlement are open in a way which has not been possible for decades.”
While politicians hailed the agreement to begin talks, they acknowledged the difficulty of reaching a satisfactory settlement in Northern Ireland, where 3,000 people have been killed in endemic violence since 1969.
The basic argument has been between Northern Ireland’s 500,000 republicans, mainly Roman Catholics, who wish to unite with the Republic of Ireland, and the 1 million unionists, mainly Protestants, who prefer British rule.
The key success in Brooke’s arduous diplomatic efforts was to get the unionist parties to sit down with the Catholics and with representatives of the Irish government.
At the outset, the talks will include the three Protestant unionist parties, the non-sectarian Alliance Party and the Social Democratic and Labor Party, which commands about two-thirds of the Catholic vote in the province.
Ulster’s Sinn Fein party, the political arm of the terrorist Irish Republican Army, will not participate in the talks. Britain’s leadership has refused to talk to Sinn Fein while the IRA uses violence in its campaign to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic.
Dublin gave a warm welcome to Brooke’s announcement, with the Irish Cabinet declaring: “We pay tribute to the personal qualities of Mr. Brooke and also to the combination of realism and vision displayed by the political leaders in Northern Ireland.”
The talks will consist of three phases. Phase one is to involve the Ulster parties, phase two would add on the Irish government and the final phase would consist of talks between London and Dublin.
Brooke said the British and Irish governments are open to compromise if the Ulster parties agree on a new power-sharing arrangement.