Northern Ireland repeating past mistakes

The Good Friday peace agreement, signed April 10 in Belfast, Ireland aims to end the years of violence which have engulfed Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for 30 years. The agreement faced a number of challenges during the summer as the marching season took its toll on Drumcree, Portadown and Londonderry; as the voters lined up under signs of Yes and No; as opponents in the North bashed the “concessions to republicanism,” and most recently, as the island mourned for the bombing victims in Omagh.
Fortunately, the Stormont Assembly, which assumed leadership of Northern Ireland following the agreement, has so far weathered the storms. The potentially explosive selection of First and Deputy Ministers of the Assembly went amicably as David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, respectively, were chosen without a hitch. Meanwhile a grumbling Irish public remains hopeful, despite the violence. Yet the latest challenge to the Belfast agreement may ultimately prove fatal.
Immediately following the Omagh bombing, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Republic Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met to discuss increasing the size of the police force in Northern Ireland, facilitating easier convictions of suspected paramilitaries and a possible return of internment, a policy which allows possible members of violent organizations to be held even without sufficient evidence to convict them. All of which represent dramatic departures from the agreement’s content.
Many of the accusations thrown at the drafters of the agreement have been primarily concerned with the “stretching of the agreement beyond imagination” by accelerating the release of IRA and Provisional IRA members, even though neither has fully met the requirements laid down by the decommissioning section of the agreement.
The police crackdown that waits in the wings stretches the peace agreement as much as the release of IRA prisoners. In the same section which lays down the requirements for the release of prisoners, the agreement also states that Great Britian must begin reducing police forces and installations while returning Ireland to a state of normalcy and relinquishing emergency powers.
Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam, and the respective leaders of the Irish and British governments, Ahern and Blair, must not be led to reactionary, repressive measures by the shock of the Omagh massacre and the media hysteria which followed. The actual organization responsible, the Real IRA, never enjoyed much support in Ireland or abroad, and now must hide from the rest of the Irish population. The Offenses Against the State Act, which followed Omagh-esque bombings in Dublin in 1974, only exacerbated the conflict and gave the tiny, violent minority fuel for its fire. The new proposed measures will accomplish the same. A crackdown on all paramilitary organizations today will demonstrate that the involved leaders have not learned from history. They will be making the same mistake in the North which helped lead the island into the violent circle out of which it now attempts to step.