- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Northern Ireland bid farewell to another of its key peace negotiators last week, setting the stage for a new era in the peace process. Peter Mandelson, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, resigned after he admitted his role in assisting an Indian businessman receive citizenship. The resignation of Prime Minister Blair's closest confidant comes shortly after former Sen. George Mitchell also gave up his official duties as a key negotiator and taskmaster for the multiparty talks in Northern Ireland. Both of their contributions as tireless arbiters in the parties' disputes over the years cannot be overstated.

Now the Northern Irish parties themselves will be forced to address the responsibilities they pledged to uphold in the Good Friday accord: to show that their weapons have been put beyond use and to reform policing methods to be more representative of both the Catholic and Protestant communities.

Without anyone left to blame, the pro-British Unionists and the Catholic Sinn Fein who want Northern Ireland to be united with the republic should make every effort to urge paramilitaries on both sides to meet the agreed-upon June 1 deadline to have their arms put beyond use. While Mr. Mandelson was in office, Sinn Fein blamed him for pushing for too many concessions on its part. Mr. Mitchell was similarly attacked by unionists who saw him as an appointee of the Irish American lobby.

John Reid, formerly the secretary of state for Scotland, will have his hands full as he takes over Mr. Mandelson's position. As a Roman Catholic who is also pro-Unionist, his appointment sends a hopeful sign to the peace process. But all of his hard work and good intentions will not be able to replace the will of the parties to make their own government work, especially in light of possible early general elections in Britain this spring.

The British government will need to do some soul-searching of its own in the wake of Mr. Mandelson's departure. Though he is gone, other politicians are being implicated in the Indian businessman's citizenship affair. Srichand Hinduja had contributed $1.4 million to the Millennium Dome, Mr. Mandelson's pet project, and has also been accused of receiving millions in kickbacks for helping with an arms deal between Bofors Arms and the Indian army. The Conservatives are now seeking to find out which other ministers may have been involved in trying to help Mr. Hinduja.

It will be important during these investigations that the momentum for peace continue. The first Northern Irish government has been formed, the IRA has allowed international monitors to observe its arms, and the Northern Irish police force has taken on a new name. The Good Friday Agreement has come too far to be turned back by political scandals and party infighting.

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