- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the rival leaders of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government Monday to keep making their awkward coalition work for the sake of lasting peace.

In an address to the Northern Ireland Assembly, with Irish Catholics to her left and British Protestants to her right, Clinton said they should take the next critical step in cooperation — running the police and justice system together — as the best way to defeat Irish Republican Army dissidents still plotting bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

Clinton told a hushed, packed chamber in Stormont Parliamentary Building that IRA dissidents were “looking to seize any opportunity to undermine the process and destabilize this government. Now they are watching this assembly for signs of uncertainty or internal disagreement.”

“They want to derail your confidence. And though they are small in number, their thuggish tactics and destructive ambitions threaten the security of every family in Northern Ireland,” she said. “Moving ahead together with the process will leave them stranded on the wrong side of history.”

Earlier, after 90-minute talks inside nearby Stormont Castle, Clinton stood side by side with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — itself a diplomatic accomplishment, because the rival leaders had not appeared together in seven months.

“There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Northern Ireland has come a long way. Old enemies are working together to build a stable, prosperous future,” Clinton said.

However, Protestant leader Robinson is resisting mounting pressure from McGuinness, the senior Catholic, for their administration to take responsibility for Northern Ireland’s justice system. Their deadlock on that issue reflects wider dysfunction in a 2-year-old coalition that often prefers dead-end arguments to compromise.

The governments of Britain, Ireland and the United States all believe that transferring law-and-order powers from London to Belfast would strengthen the coalition and isolate Irish Republican Army dissidents, who keep scheming in the background to pull the plug on power-sharing.

The dissidents have grown bolder this year, killing two British soldiers and a policeman — the first such deaths since 1998, the year of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord, which sought to leave behind a three-decade conflict that left 3,700 dead.

Britain, at Protestant insistence, retained control of the Northern Ireland police and courts when Belfast politicians came together to forge a four-party coalition in 2007.

But IRA splinter groups today still plot gun and bomb attacks in hopes of wrecking the IRA cease-fire of 1997 and poisoning Protestant cooperation with Sinn Fein, McGuinness’ IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics today.

McGuinness, a former IRA commander, says the dissidents can be defeated only if law and order are guided by local hands.

Robinson insists he has no objection to transferring these powers from London to Belfast, but Britain must promise to provide hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars) to fund the proposed Justice Department.

Sinn Fein accuses Robinson of using money demands — at a time of financial crisis and deep British deficits — as a delaying tactic because he actually opposes any Sinn Fein influence in oversight of the justice system. Robinson denies this.

Clinton left Stormont after her speech for engagements at Belfast City Hall and nearby Queen’s University. She was scheduled to travel to Moscow later Monday afternoon.

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