- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Call it magic, call it chance. With Northern Ireland's pessimists threatening to upset this weekend's Ulster Unionist Council vote down to the last minute, party leader David Trimble still rallied his party to victory Saturday. After several stormy weeks of negotiations within the pro-British political group, the Unionists voted 53 percent in favor of accepting the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) offer to put its weapons beyond use and to sit in a power-sharing government with the Catholic Sinn Fein. As the new government is established for the second time after the two-month-old ruling body was disbanded in February, its foundations are more solid than before. The initial months of the four-party government's life will provide the Unionist hard-liners and the IRA with opportunities to follow through with commitments to peace so that the executive has no chance to be derailed again.

As an initial sign of goodwill, Mr. Trimble and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of the Social Democratic Labor Party met yesterday morning for coffee to start the first day of their shared government together. The two ministers plan to make the 15-minute coffee a part of their daily routine. Such a gesture might not be a bad idea for the factions within the Unionist party as well.

Though an amendment was blocked on Saturday, which would have defeated Mr. Trimble's resolution to accept the IRA offer, hard-liners wanting to spoil the Trimble measure have growled about their own comeback. For the new shared executive to stay on firm footing in the years to come, it will have to overcome the following challenges in the days to come:

m The fourth party in the shared government, the extremist Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, was scheduled to meet tonight to decide whether it still wants to join the ruling body, though a spokesman said a decision may not be made immediately. If it decides not to join the government, Mr. Trimble's narrow majority will be strengthened as the two DUP seats would be split between a Unionist representative and an official from the Alliance party a bipartisan group supportive of the peace process. If it decides to remain, it threatens to destabilize the peace process.

m A petition to oust Sinn Fein from the government is in circulation, a British Embassy official said yesterday. If this petition receives 30 signatures, the measure would be discussed in Monday's legislative assembly meeting and could crack the body before it has a chance to get started.

m As international monitors begin inspection, the IRA must show physical evidence that it has put its weapons beyond use. The sooner it does this, the less likely the new government is to unravel.

For the first time since the signing of the Good Friday peace accord, both sides have laid out evidence that they are willing to take significant risks for the sake of peace. What better time than now for all four parties in the new government to forge a policy that reflects the Northern Irish people's mandate for peace, rather than division?

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