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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Northern Ireland: is this as good as it gets?

Two years on from the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the peace process in Northern Ireland remains deadlocked.

The planned power-sharing administration has yet to materialise, the IRA's still refusing to decomission weapons outright, and the main Unionist party is in turmoil.

There's little prospect of the IRA handing in its weapons by the agreed deadline of the 22nd of May. Each side blames the other for lack of progress. Yet the peace appears to be holding - with little or no political violence.

Our Europewide debate asks - is this as good as it's going to get for Northern Ireland? Is the most it can hope for a sort of peace without a final agreement or power-sharing administration?

Joining Laurence Zavriew for this week's Europewide debate is, from Dublin, Martin Alioth of the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung and from Belfast, the Economist's correspondent Fionnula O'Connor:


Your reaction

I hope that Ireland will be reunited peacefully as Hong Kong has been with China.

Marc Wathen, Hong Kong, China
The British Empire has left a legacy of lies and deceit wherever they went. Hong Kong is much better off without them. They used opium to destroy China. I hope that Ireland will be reunited peacefully as Hong Kong has been with China. The British should get to the truth behind "Bloody Sunday". In Zimbabwe now, we are seeing the colonial crimes of Britain coming to light. They stole the land from the black man as they stole land from the Irish! As the Paul McCartney song says "Give Ireland Back to the Irish".
Marc Wathen, Hong Kong, China

Only when the next generation of Irish politicians who have not taken part in murder and bombings take charge will things change. Only then will the blind bigotry that exists on both sides subside and those making the decisions will start to consider the most peaceful and beneficial course for the region. Bigots, killers and their captains can not reach balanced, just and positive decisions.
Graeme, England



The thing that has killed off the peace process is the British Government.

Kevin Hogan, England
The thing that has killed off the peace process is the British Government. It started when John Major was still in charge with moving the goalposts all the time and although Blair has been more flexible he has still held it out of reach because British politicians don't want peace there, they like to think that they are still the colonial lords and masters of everything they survey.
The way to get the peace process sorted is for Britain to get out and for the unionists to stop living in the 17th century and join the 21st century like everyone else!
Kevin Hogan, England

What Agreement? Do you mean that Scotch Mist invented by a bunch of accolade-seeking politicians that was long on rhetoric and short of intelligent content? No business would have entered into commercial activity based on anything so transparently worthless!
David, Canada

The only solution is to give Northern Ireland FULL independence. Let them sort it out amongst themselves.
Chris Cowdery, UK



The majority of the Northern Ireland people want to be British.

Robert, England
Jim Loughman obviously does not understand a thing he is saying! The majority of the Northern Ireland people want to be British, all our government has done is respect their wishes and uphold democracy.
A united Ireland would not create peace, it would be the unionists/loyalists turn to be terrorists! Maybe if Americans realised how oppressed the Irish people are by their state government which is dictated by the Catholic church, they would then realise why the Northern Ireland would rather be with Britain!
Robert, England

Has anyone ever heard Gerry Adams ever utter the two words Northern and Ireland together? In two years the majority of voters in the six counties will be catholic!
Peter Roche, England



People throughout the world are fed up of hearing of Ireland and the incessant ranting and intransigence.

Tim Abernethy, England
The people voted for peace. The politicians have failed them for their own pathetic selfish agendas. People throughout the world are fed up of hearing of Ireland and the incessant ranting and intransigence. Do us all a favour and stop giving them publicity. It is always the same sad ridiculous story. People are bored with Ireland!
Tim Abernethy, England



Too many innocent lives have been lost in the bombing campaigns.

Rosemary Wyatt-Millington, UK
When I was living in the US, I shared an apartment with an Irishman (from Eire) whose grandfather had been in the original IRA. We had many discussions on the Irish issue and agreed over the fact that the peace process was a good thing. I also agreed that the RUC needs to change to become like any other British police force, but that the Republicans need to respect the new body, as the forces of law and order.
But we disagreed on other issues. I believe that the terrorists on both sides should decommision - illegally held guns are just that - illegal. He argued that the republicans needed to protect themselves - against whom? Too many innocent lives have been lost in the bombing campaigns. I feel that the Orange Order has the right to march - but should not march in Republican areas - tradition or not. He said the Orange Order should be disbanded completely.
Rosemary Wyatt-Millington, UK

What Declan Doyle and so many others refer to as the unionist veto, is known in most other contexts as majority rule. It makes more sense to suggest that the way out of this impasse is to get rid of the murderers' veto - the murderers being a small minority of the population.
Alan Murphy, USA

It is only people of goodwill that can solve this problem. Where the hell are they?
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK



This is too important to let it fail because of the vanity of both sides

Tim, UK
The way out of this Irish problem and be sure it is now firmly am Irish problem is for the Irish parties to get a grip and think towards the future or the lack of it if they fail. Or the hate will never stop it's time to bury the toys of war and grow up. This is too important to let it fail because of the vanity of both sides
Tim, UK

We cannot expect all the wounds and pain to heal in such a short period of time. There is still resentment of England because of her ownership in the former colonies. Although there has been peace in these countries for years resentment and hatred still remains. If there is to be any progress then there needs to be a change in the attitudes of both sides. The decommissioning must start, the Orange Order and such other bigoted organisations must go. The RUC should become a body that represents the whole community. Only after this starts can there truly be a change in Northern Ireland
Maurice O' Brien, Irish (Living in Germany)

The intransigence of both sides has produced a stalemate. The people have been forgotten in a rush to appease the terrorists. This is not just about the IRA and the UUP; this agreement was voted on, it included specifics on devolution and decommissioning and is not being implemented. It looks like it will bite the dust. The question is 'where to next'?
B Long, Ireland



I think that all parties have come far in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland in the last two years.

Jeff, USA
I think that all parties have come far in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland in the last two years. The IRA has stopped its campaign of terror, the streets of Belfast are quieter than in thirty years. There is peace - the absence of conflict, but there is still a long way to go. The IRA must decommission its weapons, the Orange Order must dissolve, the peace talks must resume in order for real peace to be achieved.
Jeff, USA

The north of Ireland had a working democracy that could have made it a model for other nations in conflict resolution. What the British government did, in tearing down those working institutions, at the threat of one man's resignation, shows that the British government are not interested in making things better. They must leave Ireland, yet they must leave her in peace.
If the people of Britain want to see peace in Ireland, they must pressure their politicians into doing the right thing, and restore the government in the north, and allow Ireland to be re-united peacefully. Then we shall see how good it can get.
Jim Loughman, USA

What's with Unionists and their inability to keep their word? The world is changing around them, it's time to make their best deal or have it made for them.
Margaret, USA

The stumbling block seems to be over the disarmament problem. If the arms are not being used lets not worry about them. It would be a strange politician to return to violence. I don't think more violence should be tolerated by the people of N. Ireland.
Les Middleton, Liverpool, England



The IRA thinks that all it has to do is to escalate the conflict without killing too many children and it is bound to win.

John W, Holland
The IRA has always known that the British Government does not have the stomach to do what is necessary to win the war in Northern Ireland. This is mainly because if the power of the Irish lobby in America. Against this background the IRA thinks that all it has to do is to escalate the conflict without killing too many children and it is bound to win. This strategy seems to have worked.
It is also quite clear that all of the progress which has been made in Northern Ireland has been made because of concessions by the British Government. Britain gave up trying to win the war against the IRA after the Bombings in London a few years ago. It is now desperate to find a way to give the IRA what it wants without loosing face. The IRA knows this full well and so has absolutely no intention of making any concessions.
John W, Holland

I think that certain parties only entered into talks to get their people out of jail. They had no intention of seeing peace come to Northern Ireland. The IRA have been dealing in bad faith, they always have been and always will.
Christopher W. Whybrow, Philippines

A number of related points on Northern Ireland:
It costs the British taxpayer 9 billion per year to service the province of Ulster. Most of the people in the Republic do not want a united Ireland because it would dilute an extremely buoyant Irish economy. Instead of give-away budgets there would be major tax cuts to get Northern Ireland back on its feet.
The majority of industry in N.I is of the pre- technology type, namely Shipbuilding, Linen and Aeroplane motors. There will have to be a lot more investment in modern industry in N.I before the Eire government would ever consider signing up to a United Ireland.
Never before in the history of Ireland has a status quo in the peace process ever been more favourable to the people in the Republic. Maybe this is one of the impediments to resolution of the peace process.
Mike Murray, Eire



The way out of this impasse is to kill off the Unionist veto.

Declan Doyle, Ireland
Anybody who has an understanding of Irish republicanism will appreciate that the notion of "decommissioning" or surrender as it effectively is, will only serve to split the republican movement down the middle, with dire consequences.
The naysayers of unionism know this very well and are thirsting to return to the siege/security state of the past. They would rather be the masters of a war zone than share power with what they see as their inferiors. Adams and McGuinness have done as much as possible, the way out of this impasse is to kill off the Unionist veto.
Declan Doyle, Ireland

I'm afraid so, unless the Unionist Party is prepared to unconditionally shoulder blame, these present peace talks will grind to yet another halt, and may even collapse
White Knight, Bhutan

The IRA refuses to accept a peace settlement that requires the surrender of illegally held weapons. Why on earth then should anyone expect the unionists to accept a peace settlement that gives gunmen positions in government, and does not result in the disarming of armed terrorists and does not even result in a declaration that the "war" is over.
Alan Murphy, USA



Things will stay like this for a while, until someone makes a bad mistake.

Jon Livesey, USA
Every situation reaches stasis when each party achieves minimal demands. The UK Government no longer has to deal with daily murders and IRA bombings, the British public no longer has to fear sudden terrorist attacks, the IRA can preserve the illusion of being soldiers without running the risk of fighting, and the Unionists have the guarantee that they won't be forcibly taken over by the Republic.
Nothing needs to change now, because no-one has any remaining goals worth risking their lives for. Equally, no-one is sufficiently motivated to get to a permanent Peace. Things will stay like this for a while, until someone makes a bad mistake - perhaps some amateur will set another Omagh-style bomb - and then it will all go downhill again. We could have this cycle of long truces followed by outbreaks of violence more or less for ever, in the same way as the Middle East, Sri Lanka, the Caucasus, the Balkans, or Central Africa.
It's all the exact same pattern of human beings sending their sons out to fight the neighbour's sons, until they get good and sick of it, and the survivors come home to raise the next generation of little heroes. And in between battles, we celebrate Easter.
Jon Livesey, USA

The longer the lull in direct hostilities lasts the bigger chances there are that it will convert into de facto peace. The following symbolic set up has to be remembered: The marches raised the arms. Ending the marches makes the arms fall. Unionist or nobody else can expect any arms being given up until the marches are completely wiped out first. Sinn Fein needs to see that those arms do not speak.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

Under normal circumstances I would say that there is always room for improvement, however these are unusual circumstances. I understand both sides of the exigency. I know why the Irish desire unification, but I do not discern why they have to attack innocent victims.
Peter Crawford-Bolton, Brit (in US)



The decommissioning must start, the Orange Order must go.

Al, Republic of Ireland
We cannot expect years of hatred and pain to disappear in such a short period of time. There is still resentment of England all around Europe and in her colonies and of Spain in South America. There has been peace in these countries for years but resentment and hatred still remains. If there is to be any progress then there needs to be a change in the attitudes of both sides. The decommissioning must start, the Orange Order must go. The RUC should become a body that represents the whole community. Only after this starts will there truly be a change in Northern Ireland
Al, Republic of Ireland

As a foreigner, living in Ireland, I find Irish people nice - friendly, polite and calm. I always wonder what is the reason the political problem in Northern Ireland has not solved yet. Now I think that the politicians are to blame. They accepted this Agreement - why haven't they implemented it? Maybe some of them are afraid to lose the power they think they have. Apparently they have not learnt the lessons of the past.
Rumiana Dirimanova, Bulgaria, currently living in Ireland

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