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Friday, 18 February, 2000, 13:53 GMT
Can the peace process be salvaged?




The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended after just nine weeks following a stalemate over arms decommissioning, despite a last-minute attempt by Sinn Fein to offer concessions.

Unionists say the IRA must hand over weapons before the executive in Belfast can resume.

Sinn Fein blames London and the Ulster Unionists for the crisis, accusing them of laying down conditions which were not in the Good Friday Agreement.

Meanwhile, the IRA says its guns are silent and its ceasefire remains.

This is another crisis in a complicated and delicately balanced peace process. But can the two sides reach a compromise to save the assembly? Or is this one obstacle too many on the road to peace?

HAVE YOUR SAY

Historical footnote: The population movement from Scotland to Northern Ireland after William or Orange's victory was actually the return of descendants of an earlier Irish invasion of Scotland. This is before most colonists went from Europe to the Americas. Perhaps we should return the USA to the American Indians?
Michael Grazebrook, UK

Whilst according to Joe Crawford of Scotland we are not capable of making our own minds up. It is clear that he, and most of the protagonists, have made up their minds, and no amount of fact, negative consequences, potential fallout or further suffering will change those minds.
Graeme, UK



There has to be guarantees; there has to be trust.
Krow, USA
Let's try to simplify this if we can. There are 2 sides locked in a protracted conflict. Both are armed. One side is vastly superior in weaponry and manpower to the other. That side want the weaker side to disarm themselves unilaterally before they'll implement the truce agreement that they all agreed upon and which has overwhelming popular support. Who in their right mind would go for a deal like this? If the situation was reversed would the Unionists? Would the British Army, or the RUC? No, of course not. There has to be guarantees; there has to be trust.
Krow, USA

Why can the Assembly not continue without the Ulster Unionists? After all it did operate without the Sinn Fein for 80 years. It would be interesting to see how the Unionist would go about frustrating the will of the Assembly.
K James, England

Ian Richardson clearly hasn't any understanding of the situation within the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. Unionism split right down the middle over the Belfast Agreement, and if the referendum were held today, Unionists would unquestionably oppose that agreement by a substantial majority.
Tom, USA



The really depressing thing is that the same old reductionism arguments are trotted out every time
Craig Harry, England
The really depressing thing is that the same old reductionism arguments are trotted out every time. Both sides have legitimate points of view, but refuse to acknowledge the other - until they do nobody wins but the Godfathers.
Craig Harry, England

The IRA are not an army - they are a terrorist force. They plant bombs in shopping centres, kidnap, torture and murder. The British Army is answerable to democratically elected government and is not a Unionist organisation as Republican propaganda would have the more gullible believe. The people of Ulster do not want to be a part of the Irish Republic and Ulster is not ruled by England - it is a democratic part of the UK
Dave, Scotland

At the end of the day, the question should be "Do the players involved want the peace process to continue or not?" We know the people do, but the terrorist organisations? We all know, and have done for the last 15 years, that these organisations are Mafia based gangs, using drugs, protections and other criminal activities to create their wealth, but hiding their operations behind a political fence.
LG, England



Let the changes in the RUC run their course to build a viable police force answerable to all.
Muiris, Wales
The IRA disarmed once before, in the late sixties - the result was their homes burnt out and their communities attacked by loyalists, IRA then meant I RAN AWAY. Who can blame my community for wanting to ensure that that never happens again. Let the changes in the RUC run their course to build a viable police force answerable to all, let my community have a real say in government and watch the IRA wither away.
Muiris, Wales (at present!)

Isn't it typical of UK news coverage that all we hear is the Unionist voice berating the IRA for not decommissioning. Maybe I misunderstand the Agreement, but was the idea not that ALL paramilitary groups (that includes Loyalists too) should decommission by some time in May 2000?
Now the Unionists want the goalposts moved, and gripe bitterly that the IRA are not playing by the rules. Well, who's making the rules, and who's trying to change the rules. And if Joe Bloggs decides he's going to take up arms in the name of the IRA, then what power do Sinn Fein have to stop him if he has no affiliation to them?
Jon, England

Jorg Haider has entered government in Austria without killing anyone, being convicted for pro terrorist offences or refusing to show any remorse. There has been international outcry with EU sanctions being applied. Meanwhile, in our crazy little state, Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the Londonderry IRA has become a member of the cabinet in the same way as Haider. Have there been repercussions, outcry or sanctions - NO.
Ian Patterson, N Ireland



There will never be peace in Ireland whilst it is partitioned.
Vin Wright, UK
The peace process is never going to work. I am not a catholic nor do I particularly subscribe to Irish Republicanism but the fact is that the island of Ireland should be for the Irish. The protestant movement is living in the past. There will never be peace in Ireland whilst it is partitioned. That is a fact which politicians from all sides cannot or will not face up to. If they did they'd be out of a job.
Vin Wright, UK

What on earth is Trimble doing going on a lecture tour at such a critical point? To me it is obvious he thinks more of money than of the peace process - I haven't forgotten who kept the Nobel money either!
Gio, UK

The IRA WILL NEVER HAND OVER THEIR ARMS. The IRA of yester year is gone. There are hardly any of those in today's IRA that understand what they are fighting for. The actions of the IRA are always published, yet the beatings and the murders, rapes etc of the unionists are kept secondary.
What about the murders of nationalists, these are rarely seen by the US. There are so many breakaway factions in the IRA that it is impossible to disarm them. The government are fooling themselves and the people. Yes, there is a ceasefire but there are still beatings, still fear on the streets. Why must the British army occupy a country that is not theirs. Britain is an imperialist farce.
Michelle Rattigan, Ireland



Something will happen to resolve this new impasse - it always does.
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland
So apparently we here in Northern Ireland are staring into the abyss again. It bores me. Something will happen to resolve this new impasse - it always does. It will be another Midnight hour salvage operation and the media will be able to shift thousands more papers with "Peace" headlines again.
The politicians will congratulate themselves once more and sit back to bask in the glow of glory, when in reality no real progress will have been made. And when the glow fades and the politicians are again faced with real political work for the people of Northern Ireland, they will invent another issue with which to stall, for the media to seize upon as a crisis that will once again having us staring into this "abyss."
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland

As Dave from Scotland correctly points out, the IRA is not an army and since they do not have the support of the vast majority of the people they claim to be liberating, they are not freedom fighters. Undefeated real armies do in fact decommission weapons all the time. The US army has decommissioned large numbers of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Alan Murphy, USA

The IRA are not an army - they are a terrorist force. All the squabbling and who is to blame will probably long be forgotten in the passages of time. However, if we fail now, history will remark that a real opportunity to deliver peace to a long-suffering people was badly squandered. Personally I think whilst all guns are silent we should press ahead for lasting peace (albeit carefully). If we give up now, we not only submit future generations to fear and suffering, but we also impose a sense of futility on the victims of the past.
Colin, England



Even if the IRA are reluctant to disarm totally now, would it be so difficult for them to decommission 10% of their weapons to show good faith?
Chris, UK
The IRA say their guns are silent and so it does not matter whether they decommission them. But the clear problem is that whilst the weapons are still there, either they can decide to go back to violence, or more likely more breakaway groups will form like the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA and use those weapons. But the other point is that even if the IRA are reluctant to disarm totally now, would it be so difficult for them to decommission 10% of their weapons to show good faith?
Chris, UK

The recent break down in the disarmament process with the IRA speaking in terms of a "military victory" instead of a peaceful resolution, is proof positive that one should not, and indeed can not, negotiate with a terrorist organisation.
Nev Lockwood, USA (ex-UK)



It's blatantly obvious that Trimble is doing this for his own political gain, using the UK government as his puppet.
Ian Richardson, Cambridge, UK
It's blatantly obvious that Trimble is doing this for his own political gain, using the UK government as his puppet. The IRA are doing the honourable thing of backing down gracefully (whether people want to realise this or not) and all the paramilitary organisations seem to want to follow their lead. Trimble is doing this not to wreck the process (although his actions have single-handedly put everything backwards by at least a year, if not two), but simply to bolster his weak position as a skilled leader the UUP.
Hard-liners within his party want to see the weapons and ammunition destroyed in one great pyre, an idealistic and unrealistic position. That together with his backing down over the Orangemen marches has left his position teetering on the edge. What better way for Trimble than to boost his own position by using a practical twist on the Good Friday agreement which everyone sympathetic to his views can relate to, thus giving a political drive to his agenda? Bizarrely, he couldn't lose because if there had been a significant and sudden shift in IRA policy everyone who would history remember?
Ian Richardson, Cambridge, UK

What is the point in fighting for Ireland anyway? Do they not see that Europe is giving more laws than Britain at the moment? The process will survive only if people want it to, and tell their representatives that they must persevere. Every side has committed sins against the other: all should relinquish their arms and try to forgive one another. 'Let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone'. All are imperfect. No one is better than anyone else. We should try, try and try again, even if we are weary and discontented, and impatient with other people. There is no other way.
Lorna, Ireland

What everyone forgets is that the IRA are an army on cease-fire, who did not sign up to the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein, who did sign the Mitchell Principles, and who did sign the GFA, are elected officials, committed to the peace process. What other army in the world ever gave up their weaponry before there was a final settlement? To collapse the institutions was to slap around 300,000+ voters on the island of Ireland right in the face. How can Mandy come in and collapse a working government, break an international treaty, throw the people of the north, the people who get it in the neck, into utter panic, sadness and despair? Just how does a government justify those actions, knowing full well the results?
Jim Loughman, USA



Please would someone give Krow, USA a history lesson!
Richard Marriott, England
As a student I feel that Krow really does not know what he is talking about saying that the IRA has only 1000 guns compared to 150,000 unionist ones. Come over to NI and see how the IRA guns are actually used. Knee capping kids, terrorising people who live in nationalist areas. Americans really do not know the circumstances of NI and should really learn the facts before making inflammatory comments.
Michael, Northern Ireland

When in the history of warfare has an undefeated army been asked to hand over its weapons in any kind of peace accord? I don't think that the comments from the US are particularly pro IRA. They are objective observations which seem to be non existent in great Britain due to the fact that sadly the majority of people in the UK have an inability to think for themselves and are reliant on an aggressively right wing Media to form their opinions.
Joe Crawford, Scotland



Decommissioning should not be done to humiliate anyone rather it should be done to bring peace and reconciliation
Rev John Joshva Raja, Scotland/India
I think it is the responsibility of the churches, political leaders and people to make sure that they do not allow themselves to return to a path where violence dominates the life of people again. From my understanding of the recent developments, I would suggest that UUP and the Mr Peter Mandelson have to come down to accept the fact that IRA is going to get rid of their weapons. Decommissioning should not be done to humiliate anyone rather it should be done to bring peace and reconciliation. If UUP wanted the peace on their own terms and if British government accepts it as a norm, then again we go back to the same square. I do not understand what is the problem with the British government who were spending a lot of money on peace and UUP sitting with Sinn Fein to talk peace and on the way they suddenly pull the plug out. In this case I agree with Irish government that this institution must be immediately revived in order to avoid any more bloodshed.
Rev John Joshva Raja, Scotland/India

In my opinion, the broad changes brought about by the GFA have been too much for the conservative members of northern Irish society (including politicians) to deal with. And that's ok - change can be scary. As long as the cease-fires hold, and the necessary changes continue to be implemented, the unionists will grow used to the new situation, and eventually will desire to have more control over the governing of NI. Devolution will be reinstated, and all will be well, albeit more slowly. That's my prediction. I have hope for a peaceful and just future for NI.
Melanie, USA

To Matthew Johnson: I agree with your comment on the agreement. Sinn Fein ministers were only allowed to take office until they fulfilled the requirements of de Chastelin. They also appointed a go-between on the arms issue. The process must be completed by May 2000. My point about the suspension being legally flawed is mainly due to the fact, that technically the agreement has not been broken. The May deadline has not yet fallen. Make no mistake everyone on the Island of Ireland wants this agreement to work, the Republic has changed articles 2 and 3 of the constitution and rescinded its claim to the North. All this was done for the agreement and no preconditions were demanded. Why should this process be halted because Unionists have decided they want arms hand over three months earlier than what was agreed by in the agreement? If the UUP walked out of government in May and no weapons were handed in, I would have supported them fully.
Aidan O'Donovan, Irish Rep.



Show me where Mr Mandleson is given power to suspend the institutions. Show me where the January 31 deadline is
Allan Seoigh, USA
Why can no one remember that we are NOT in the "context of the implementation of the overall settlement"? Rather, we are in the context of a 19-month delay used to renegotiate non-existent preconditions into the GFA. After merely weeks of institutions being up and running, the IRA is expected to look at the grand progress and unilaterally turn in arms? Why? The GFA clearly intended to give all armed groups about 1 1/2 years to observe progress and act accordingly. Show me the lines in the GFA that allow the UUP to prevent the formation of the executive. Show me where Mr Mandleson is given power to suspend the institutions. Show me where the January 31 deadline is. It is THESE people to whom a gesture of good faith should be shown? How rich!
Allan Seoigh, USA

The politics of the issue are well known, but what is not so well known is how hot the passion for peace burns. It seems at times the egos' of certain people get in the way of the will of the people. You will always have your lunatic fringe, don't try and accommodate them, the last thing they want is peace under any circumstance. But if peace is the real desire, compromise, then reach out honestly it's as simple as that.
David Minnie, South Africa

I was grateful to read Chris Hollett's revisionist theory about the Irish problem. No wonder us Irish have been fighting for so long. We always thought that it was the plantations led by Cromwell in the 14 and 15 centuries. It's lucky we have knowledgeable English commentators who may help us solve our problem. William of Orange planted Ireland? Don't talk about things you know nothing about.
Malachy McGill,

To Xavier T - USA Get your facts right, Northern Ireland people want to be part of the UK! And that we want to have the right of staying part of the UK, we do not want to declare independence You should get your facts right before you open your mouth!
Anon, Northern Ireland, UK

In response to Rossa, Ulster is Northern Ireland and a separate country, the majority of whom wish to be part of the United Kingdom. Saying that Ireland and Northern Ireland are an island and should therefore be one country is the same as saying that Scotland, England and Wales should be one country. Your reasoning is purely geographical. The reasons that countries have their current borders is historical, whether you personally think that is right or wrong.
Simon, England



We never hear of all the guns still in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries who are equally as dangerous as the IRA
Grainne Phillips, Ireland
There is no way that the IRA are going to go back to violence - they are too far down the constitutional road for that. The whole farce of decommissioning is a red herring from the Unionist parties, who never wanted to see Nationalists getting equality and have put obstacles in the way of the peace process every step of the way. We never hear of all the guns still in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries who are equally as dangerous as the IRA. The IRA has far more to lose than to gain by reverting to violence, and it is time that the British Government stopped kow-towing to Trimble and the Unionists and started looking honestly at achieving true peace in Northern Ireland.
Grainne Phillips, Ireland

It is time SF/IRA decided what they were: Are they a democratic party using solely peaceful means? Or a gang of armed thugs? They can't have it both ways. If they are the former, then they should give up their illegal murder arsenals immediately, if they are the latter, then they should be thrown out of the Assembly and Executive.
Dave, Bournemouth, UK

The problems in northern Ireland are exacerbated by the fact that politicians on both sides have too much to loose with peace. The "innocent" members of the public are also to blame. I think it was a BBC article that said that children from the age of 2 have learnt to dislike priests of the other order. As long as the parents of NI teach their kids to hate there can be no peace, independence or not.
Vishal Vashisht, UK

Ulster IS Ireland and the IRA are completely justified in what they are trying to do, even if they are wrong in the way they go about it. I know my people well and they are not a usually belligerent people - England created the IRA and its cousins in the form of the various breakaway groups. Quite frankly, Ireland should not have had to have made an agreement - Britain should not have any hold over another country.
Rossa McPhillips, UK (Irish)



The British Army is not a terrorist organisation - the IRA is.
Simon, England
It's interesting to see all the comments from Americans are in support of the IRA, saying the Unionists have the support of the British military. The British Army is not a terrorist organisation - the IRA is. There can be no peace until the IRA lay down their arms, which they repeatedly fail to do, with Sinn Fein constantly shifting the blame onto the British government and the Unionists. The IRA must begin decommissioning weapons and explosives. By not doing so they show that they are not committed to peace, instead that they want to continue to terrorise the people of Northern Ireland - the very people they want to united with the Republic of Ireland.
Simon, England

Peace is a long, hard road. I don't know how long it will take, how many innocent lives it will claim. I do know it has claimed far far far too many already. One life was one too many. They need to disarm. And now. I hope for the sake of both the Irish and British people that the IRA and the unionists can take a bold step forward. After all this mess, months of negotiations, there is still this chronic mistrust. Time will heal this mistrust. It has been said that time is the strongest of all warriors. I hope its true.
Jonathan Bensley, Australia

How can the British government suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly? If England truly believes in democracy how can it continue to rule over a people who do not want to be ruled and with a monarch no less? What is the difference between the Chechen's who are seeking independence and sovereignty from Russia and Northern Ireland, which wants independence and sovereignty from England? At the end of the day the problem with IRA leaders and all of the other self-important people that have been involved since day one is that they do not know what their purpose in life will be if this issue was every solved.
Xavier T. Rayford, USA

What I can't understand is why the usual remedy for an impossible political crisis has not been applied in this case. When a government can no longer move forward with it's programme the usual thing to do is to call elections and test solutions out on the people who will have to live with them. If both sides are so confident of their points of view why is this not done? It seems to me the least democratic thing to do is suspend an elected government and try to resolve the issues in secret.
Donald, England

The argument is straight forward. Hand in the weapons. The Good Friday Agreement was only approved by the Unionist Majority because Blair told them the IRA was going to decommission. The message to Sein Fein / IRA should be clear, Forget the "careful" wording of the agreement and deliver the goods.
Roy Chapman, UK / Germany



How can anyone expect the IRA to disarm in the face of that continuing threat?
Krow, USA
To Chris and Vernon: the point I'm trying to make is that the IRA is opposed by a vastly superior force, much of it foreign. Yet the focus is on IRA decommissioning with hardly a word about the other side. This may be skilful media spin doctoring, but how can anyone expect them to disarm in the face of that continuing threat? Will the unionists give up their weapons - civilian and paramilitary? Will the British Army withdraw with a guarantee never to return? Will the RUC ever be reformed? Very little is happening on those fronts, and no one seems to notice or care. The republican movement has been duped in the past, and has a long memory. And as for the population overwhelmingly voting to remain British, I think that full civil rights to the Catholic community will go a long way in keeping NI in the UK. There's nothing like a fair and inclusive society to quell the desire for secession.
Krow, USA

Most Americans haven't got a clue about the situation in NI. There's this pipe dream that the Irish are fighting honourably against the oppressionistic British which is utter nonsense. Perhaps if the Indians over here went around blowing up populated areas and performed punishment beatings they'd get a better idea.
Peter B, USA (ex-UK)

To Aidan O'Donovan: Yes, people voted for the agreement, but this calls for decommissioning schemes to be in operation by end June 98 and for the process to be completed within 2 years (see AI agreement, section on Decommissioning, points 3 and 6).Since the AI agreement is freely accessible on the Web, we can at least keep the basic facts straight.
Matthew Johnson, England

Mr Vernon Hunte asked where the number of 150,000 unionist guns comes from. In fact it is standard republican propaganda in the US to claim that the British Government has armed 100 thousand or 150 thousand unionists and that only unionists may legally own guns. Yes, it's nonsense, but in the US it's widely believed, as are a large number of other equally wild claims about Northern Ireland.
Jon Livesey, USA

I am a Belfast citizen currently residing in Japan. I grew up in the troubles, I left because of them. I firmly believe that the IRA will never concede. Maybe the superficial appearance of a desire for peace can be easily seen, but their immediate refusal to disarm adequately proves they feel their cause is far from completed.
Suzanne McMillan, Japan

To all intents and purposes I believe that the peace process has been brought to its knees. Since the troubles began, everything humanly possible has been tried. The leading parties in Ulster are, by their very nature, stubborn and are very unlikely to give in to one another again. Yes, David Trimble did make a big step when he jumped into a powersharing executive but, the various paramilitaries within Northern Ireland still look unlikely to make the next step, disarmament.
PW, UK

It really is very difficult to imagine the IRA giving up their arms. They have achieved so much, including respectability, from killing people. Elections, referenda and other forms of democracy are quite meaningless when they can gain so much from the bomb and the bullet.
Ray Marsh, Australia

To compromise is to gain but not to is to lose. At the moment we are losing. First, we need to know what the meaning of compromise is. It means both sides have to agree on something so why don't they do that? If they do, then yes the peace process can be salvaged, if not, no. People need to be clear, firm and not back down to achieve the former.
Selena, HongKong

Why did the IRA come up with an eleventh hour alternative? Why leave it so late? Why not suggest this option the day or week before? They are just testing everyone's patience, when so far all the other parties involved have been more than accommodating. As my old grandmother used to say, "they want the bread, butter and the bun".
Jack Bay, UK

"No government, No guns" Its as simple as that. No right-thinking government should allow representatives of armed organisations in government. Peter Mandelson and David Trimble are right to suspend the assembly until Sinn Fein/IRA decommission some of their deadly arsenal.
Eric Rohloff, Abingdon, UK

Gerry Adams' concern was that since all sides had worked so hard to reach agreement, making major concessions along the way, the imposition of deadlines was heavy-handed. I do agree that intransigence can only serve to inflame passions. Since we want peace, we must also negotiate peacefully - and gently give each party an opportunity to save face. "A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the heart." Meanwhile let me congratulate the British Government for the marvellous work it has done so far.
Simon Cameron, UK

I have just finished reading both the first and second decommissioning reports and to put it somewhat bluntly, "what are these people using up taxpayers money for" . There is no substance in either. There has never been a 'Good Friday Agreement' since there was in essence nothing concrete agreed to. There was a consensus that should somebody do something ,someone else might think about doing something else, but, that about sums it up. And yet all and sundry took credit and peace prizes for drinking expensive cups of tea. Ultimately a deal consists of definite commitments with definite deadlines. When the sides agree to follow this premise we might actually move forward in an unequivocable manner.
David Clark, British in USA

The peace process must be salvaged, but in order for it to happen, the IRA need to start decommissioning their vast arsenal of weapons. No doubt Americans say that they have no need to get rid of their weapons, as the RUC still have theirs, the main difference is that the IRA's are illegal and the RUC's are not.
C Flowerday, England

In a true democracy, the valid consent of the people as to how they are to be governed cannot be obtained by force, by fear or by fraud. Yet the Belfast Agreement is founded upon the force of political terrorism, the fear of its continuance, and the fraud of a government in deceiving the people with pledges that it had no intention of fulfilling. We, the people of Northern Ireland need an alternative to the failed agreement, a new start from this current process of capitulation and surrender to the terrorists who have been a scourge upon this community for the last 30 years. We need a true and just alternative of democratic government as practised in the western world and as recently granted to Scotland and Wales.
Christopher Stalford, Belfast, Northern Ireland

You can't just change overnight the distrust that is still evident in Northern Ireland anyone who thinks this is the case is not living in the real world. It can be saved but not by David Trimble dooming the process before it even starts by writing a post-dated resignation letter. Do they want peace??
Alistair, Ireland



I think David Trimble took an incredibly brave step back in December, and I think the IRA now need to match his bravery and confidence in the future.
Howard Rogers, Australia
To have come so far after so much bad history, it would be criminal to fail now. I think David Trimble took an incredibly brave step back in December, and I think the IRA now need to match his bravery and confidence in the future. It simply isn't possible to pretend that the IRA could not resume war (just or not) if they were so minded, if they keep their weapons. They need to take some step to say, 'War, and the option of war, is behind us".
Howard Rogers, Australia

The peace process can be salvaged, but first the Unionists must realize that the IRA cannot simply lay down its arms. It's ridiculous to expect the IRA to lay down its arms when the Unionists will always have the full weight of British military might to back them up. The English have shown they can and will impose direct rule at the drop of a hat whenever there is a snag in the peace process. But this is all the more reason for the IRA not to disarm - the Unionists have nothing to lose from direct rule, and therefore they have an unfair advantage in negotiations with Sinn Fein. Only the threat of continued armed resistance by the IRA can give the two sides a fair and equal standing - which is a prerequisite of any meaningful negotiation.
Zain, USA

Where did Krow get the figures of 150,000 Unionist guns and just a 1000 IRA weapons? This is pure Irish fantasy.
Vernon Hunte, England



The peace process can be salvaged, but the amount of political posturing on the weapons issue is not helping.
Aidan O'Donovan, Irish Rep.
he peace process can be salvaged, but the amount of political posturing on the weapons issue is not helping. The UUP have wrecked this chance for normality in N.I, by dictating terms to Sinn Fein/IRA and implementing false deadlines not contained within the agreement. With Peter Mandelson suspending the Assembly, he is legally in breech of the Agreement which states the deadline for beginning arms handover to be May 2000. The agreement was voted for by all the people of N.I, not just Unionists.
Aidan O'Donovan, Irish Rep.

To 'Krow'. The RUC are armed to the teeth to protect themselves from being murdered by the IRA. To Schultz I would like to point out that the troubles in N.I. originally began when William of Orange, a Dutch king who didn't speak English tried to settle Scottish Protestants in Ireland to undermine the Catholic church in that country. Also might I point out that in the last referendum in N.I. the people of that province voted OVERWHELMINGLY to remain part of the UK. As to that term 'army', what battles have they fought? What government do they serve? What soldier kneecaps 14 year old boys?
Chris Hollett, UK

It was a very difficult situation for both Unionists and Nationalists but I really feel we should not put the blame on David Trimble and Gerry Adams. Peter Mandelson called IRA a private army - what then would we call the British paras in N. Ireland? Are they the peace keepers ..definitely not. Where is the Bloody Sunday report? If the IRA is terrorist for the unionist then RUC and British Army in N.Ireland are terrorist for Nationalist and Republican.
VIJANTH S., Belfast UK



It is inconceivable that after centuries of mistrust the issue of disarmament could be settled as quickly as has been expected
Robert Owen, England
It is inconceivable that after centuries of mistrust on both sides of the water that the issue of disarmament could be settled as quickly as has been expected! It seems that the violence has stopped so why has the talking? It concerns me also that the First Minister of Wales resigned and all that happened was someone stepped in to take his place... why couldn't the same happen in NI? Shame, Shame, Shame on the politicians from all sides!
Robert Owen, England

Yes yes yes, you are probably right, Flemming....but the whole point is that was 400 years ago and it's time to forget all that and get on with living together and doing ordinary things like shopping and going to pubs without the threat of being shot or blown up. The wonderful ordinary people of Ireland just want those things; they are fed up with the sectarianism and bigotry of both sides over 400 years. And if I see on more "agreement" without proper time scales on, I will scream! How on earth can we say we have any agreement when the one thing it's all been about..decommissioning...doesn't have any dates on it (on EITHER side)?
Barry, UK

With the RUC armed to the teeth, 150,000 legal weapons in unionist hands, and the British Army crawling all over Armagh I just don't see what all the fuss is about 1,000 or so silent IRA guns. What an incredible media spin! Sadly, it seems that the government can't resist taking shots at the IRA when they feel they have an opportunity.
Krow, USA

I think that's a question for the IRA to answer. They're the ones wrecking the process, not Trimble or Adams.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

The misery in Northern Ireland is the result of historic English imperialism. For an end to this misery one might look at how it was solved in other former colonies such as America, India, Rhodesia, etc. True independence is the only way to true peace. Many people will pay a high price for such peace, but don't blame the people of the Irish Island. The lords in London created this misery out of greed and disrespect of human lives. Blame them, and do not forget, or they will do it again.
Flemming Schultze, Denmark

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11 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
NI Assembly suspended

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