Newest deadline for peace set in Northern Ireland

Sascha Matuszak

This Friday marks the most recent deadline for a power transfer from the British government to the Northern Irish political parties.
The transfer will eliminate outside influence in Northern Ireland and might lead to regional stability and peace.
The Belfast Agreement, signed in April 1998 by the British and Irish governments, created the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The assembly is the executive body through which the Ulster Unionist Party, led by David Trimble, and Sinn Fein, under leader Gerry Adams, will govern Northern Ireland.
George Mitchell, the former Maine senator and a pivotal player in the peace process, has been conducting a review of the Belfast Agreement since early September. The review is meant to bring the contending factions together, find a solution for the impasse stalling the agreement’s implementation and create the executive body that will rule Northern Ireland.
Mitchell has extended the deadline for an agreement between the two parties several times, following extensive talks in Belfast and London during the past two months.
When he returns to Ireland today, Mitchell expects Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party to compromise or risk indefinitely scrapping the agreement, which many consider to be the last chance for regional peace.
Unfortunately, the executive has been bogged down with disputes since signing the Belfast Agreement.
“It’s so frustrating to watch the process drag on for so long,” said Fran McDonagh, a Dublin resident. “I wish they would just get on with the business.”
The disarmament of the Irish Republican Army, the release of political prisoners and the future of policing have been the main issues of contention.
Sinn Fein, the recognized political arm of the IRA, argues that disarmament is not a prerequisite for creating the executive.
The Ulster Unionists, however, refuse to create a government with Sinn Fein until the IRA disarms.
The “no guns, no government” stance of the Unionists and the refusal of the IRA to disarm has prevented the agreement from being implemented, keeping the chances of peace in Northern Ireland tenuous.
The atmosphere in Ireland is tense as many await a solution to an ancient problem. Neither Sinn Fein nor the Unionists want to walk away from the agreement, but neither will give in.
Peter Mandelson, who British Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed as the new Northern Secretary to Ireland on Oct. 12, said Saturday that there was no other option than the Belfast Agreement and its full implementation.
“It’s hard to imagine what will happen (if there is no compromise),” said McDonagh. “God only knows.”

Sascha Matuszak covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]