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May 14, 2006
Northern Ireland Slowly Returns To Home Rule

The Stormont will meet for the first time in four years Monday, restarting the bitterness-plagued home rule project in Northern Ireland. In what appears to be an unintentionally symbolic start, no business will be conducted for the first week. Instead, the assembly will spend its time trying to generate enough consensus to form an executive, a goal that the Stormont appears unlikely to achieve:

The Northern Ireland Assembly will sit on Monday for the first time since it was suspended in 2002 following allegations of a republican spy ring operating at the parliamentary buildings in Belfast.

The London and Dublin governments are hoping the province's Catholic and Protestant political parties can resolve their differences between now and November 24 to restore the power-sharing administration.

But the 108 members of what critics say is a "powerless" legislature will not be deluged in paperwork when they return to the Stormont debating chamber in Belfast's eastern outreaches. ... Instead, they will officially declare their allegiances in a register as either "unionist" -- for continued union with the United Kingdom -- "nationalist" -- pro-unification with the Irish Republic -- or "other". ...

But the first real political business does not come until May 22, when attempts will be made by both sides to form a power-sharing government. Yet that has been written-off as a non-starter already.

Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and an acknowledged former commander in the IRA made a surprising and bold move to kick-start home rule. He proposed that Ian Paisley, his bitter enemy for decades, take the position of first minister in the new executive as a potential breakthrough. Paisley's DUP refuses to share power with Sinn Fein, and true to form, Paisley rejected the offer outright. It does not make for a propitious start to home rule.

In a way, the problem in Northern Ireland is similar to that of the Palestinian Authority. The people of the province seem determined to elect people with ties to terrorism, although not quite as baldly as the Palestinians did. It makes it difficult for anyone to have credibility in the new assembly and equally difficult for the two sides to negotiate in peace. The Good Friday agreement, much like the Oslo Accord, tried to give terrorists the respectability of true freedom fighters -- those who do not attack defenseless civilians for political gain, but instead either attack the government that oppresses them or their paramilitary enemies directly.

Is it any wonder that terrorism has gained such a foothold after well-intentioned efforts such as Oslo and Good Friday? We get more of what we reward, and in both cases we rewarded factions for having become the most successful terrorists over a period of decades. Again, with Oslo, terrorists received their rewards more directly, but no one can pretend that the political parties of the Stormont have not risen to power on the basis of terrorism.

When the people reject terrorists and elect statesmen, that is when peace will come. That applies to Ulster just as much as it does to the West Bank. The only difference between the two is the temperature of the electorate. Northern Ireland has a much better opportunity to look beyond the old choices and find new leadership without bloody hands -- leadership that can reach beyond factionalism to truly represent the Irish in Ulster, whatever vision they choose. Hopefully, the new Stormont assembly can stay together long enough for an election that will generate such leadership.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 14, 2006 7:29 AM

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