- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

LONDON —Three years ago this summer, I was at a lunch in Northern Ireland that lasted more than six hours not a long time at all, somebody said, compared with how long it took to get the company to that mixed table. Nobody could remember the last time that Irish Protestants and Roman Catholics of that status - academics, doctors, lawyers, politicians had gathered to talk of a peace they felt was already allowing people to walk the streets with a mite less danger.
The people of the South, Catholic and Protestant, had already long achieved their peace and government, and now the people of the six counties that make up the province of Ulster had made many of the concessions that were needed.
Britain would still be sovereign, but both Catholics and Protestants would govern in the first northern joint assembly a huge step toward unity in the entire North. Some important details remained, like the number of Northerners still fanatically hostile to each other, Catholic or Protestant, often murderously hostile. But the united assembly had been created, and everybody felt it would flourish, a triumph for everybody but terrorists who would never willingly accept peace.
Now, the entire structure of the joint legislative assembly that made most Northerners so hopeful of peace is staggering. It may be suspended in six weeks.
The Catholic Irish Republican Army, through its political arm Sein Finn, had agreed to give up the huge vaults of weapons used in scattered killings and stowed away against heavy action if they decided the day for that had come.
The details of "decommissioning" or gradual disarming the anti-British forces in the North have not been spelled out by the IRA.
Palestinians negotiating for final terms of a peace with Israel made the same kind of deal at Oslo. We will tell you the terms: Jerusalem and high-security provisions, and when we have everything else we want, a weakened enemy cannot make us abide by the rest.
As the three years passed, without the IRA delivering the goods details of the decommissioning accounting and disarmament plans the IRA and the Protestant paramilitary stepped up pressure on each other. The bombing murders of 28 persons, mostly women and children out shopping, took only seconds a few day days after the agreement for a united assembly, the terrorists way of showing they rejected such a peace-promoting mechanism.
But in Northern Ireland and in the independent Republic of Ireland in the south, top Catholic politicians, including the prime minister, became increasingly furious at the IRA and its armed units. And just the other day, IRA units wounded adolescent girls going to school children whose mothers decided to show their freedom by taking a different path instead of the one they usually used.
The nasty traditional month of hateful parades is arriving. Each side ritually shows its anger and contempt for the other, attacks against Catholics matched by fury against Protestants. If that happens this time, David Trimble, the head of the united northern assembly, is likely to resign in anger and disgust.
Britiain's Prime Minister Tony Blair may immediately use his right to suspend the assembly, the fruit of years of negotiation.
In Belfast, politicians expect President Bush to try to convince IRA moderates that allowing the militant killers on both sides to hold sway may end chances of peace for years.
The real power of the peace leaders now is that Catholics and Protestants are disgusted by the everlasting violence.
Catholics are an overwhelming majority in Ireland as a whole, and even in the North. But they suffered decade after decade from inferior economic opportunity, social insult from enemies who thought them trash, and from the clubs of local and national police controlled by Protestants.
Most of that has ended, but the struggle continues, led by men whose hatreds have no end, resting mostly now not on dogma but plain hatred and bigotry, and political maneuvering for power within each side.
Since boyhood, I have been seized by Ireland its music, poetry, drama, now all glistening in America's own culture. Seanus Heaney should get two Nobels for his poetry, not just a measly one.
Now, Jewish pubs are what Ireland north and south need most. Sometimes I think of a piece of graffiti once scrawled on the walls of Belfast: "To those who understand, no explanation is necessary. To those who will not understand, no explanation is possible."

A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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