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By Mark Noll

Belfast: Tense with Peace, Part 1

In late August 1994, Sinn Fein, the political party that speaks for the clandestine Irish Republican Army, announced that the IRA's campaign of terrorist violence against British rule in Northern Ireland would be suspended. Soon thereafter, the major terrorist organizations that presume to act on behalf of Northern Ireland's Protestant majority reciprocated with word that they, too, would honor this cease-fire. Negotiations toward a long-term solution of the Troubles--which, since 1970, had been marked by a sickening cycle of terrorist action followed by terrorist retaliation as well as massive public displays of force by the British military--immediately intensified. Those negotiations have to date involved the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, leaders of the local police force (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), delegates from the Irish Republic, and representatives of the province's political parties. Prime Minister John Major's unwillingness to let Sinn Fein and the tiny parties speaking for the Protestant terrorists participate in the negotiations until these militants begin turning in their arms and explosives has bogged down the peace process. But every month that the cease-fire continues, hope--for so long the rarest of commodities in Northern Ireland--has managed to survive. Could it be that peace is about to break out in this troubled corner of the world?

1. Events in Northern Ireland during the first half of July, ten months after the cease-fire began, suggest that the situation, though now genuinely hopeful, remains also explosively complex.

Most notable on the positive side of the ledger this past summer was the nearly universal tribute marking the passing of an ordinary Irishman whose self-consciously Christian response to terrorism made an extraordinary impression. On Veterans' Day, November 11, 1987 (which the British style Remembrance or Poppy Day), the IRA exploded a bomb in Enniskillen, a country town 70 miles west of Belfast, amid a group ...

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