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Ulster: Time for Goodwill

The deadlock that stymied self-governance in Northern Ireland for more than 25 years has been broken. Now republicans and unionists are changing the course of history in the troubled province, and high political courage has been shown on both sides.

On Saturday, David Trimble and his conservative Protestant Unionist Party voted to back a long overdue compromise, set in the Good Friday agreement of 1998, which called for an assembly representing all the people of Ulster to govern the province through a power-sharing executive. For that they deserve recognition.

The assembly convened at Stormont Castle in Belfast and appointed a 12-member Cabinet that includes Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army commander, proof that a measure of change has taken place.

On Thursday, Queen Elizabeth will sign the devolution order giving power to Catholics and Protestants alike. Northern Ireland will remain a British province, but politics will lie in the hands of those on each side of Ulster’s traditional divide.

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The people of Ulster made this historic decision and only they can maintain it, but recognition is due to former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who brokered the original agreement in April 1998 and came back to its rescue last September.

Mitchell’s approach resembles the hard but practical decisions--all centered on political power sharing--made in other onetime colonialist territories like South Africa, Rhodesia and Kenya. That formula has now given bloody Northern Ireland a democratically established government that reflects a fair division of political power.

Peace in Ulster is in no way guaranteed. Unionists rightly distrust the IRA, and vice versa. Ian Paisley of the extremist Democratic Unionist Party would gladly sabotage the agreement. But this agreement should not be measured in terms of risks. This is the time for goodwill.


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