THE path toward peace in strife-torn Northern Ireland lies in ending the mistrust and hatred which lead to violence, and building, step-by-step, communication and reconciliation between warring factions.
During his US trip Garret FitzGerald, prime minister of Ireland, has continued his efforts to move in this direction, counseling Irish-Americans not to provide money, moral support, or weapons to Northern Ireland's purveyors of violence on either side. His sentiments are in harmony with those expressed from time to time by such prominent Irish-Americans as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Patrick Moynihan, and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. And they dovetail with the strong words of President Reagan a year ago, when he spoke out against the ''moral bankruptcy of the men of violence'' and urged all Americans to withhold their support.
All are particularly careful to urge Americans not to be fooled into providing funds to organizations that purport to aid persons victimized by violence, but in fact buy and smuggle weapons to Northern Ireland in order to continue the violence.
Communication and reconciliation are basic to Prime Minister FitzGerald's effort to help solve the deep societal schism in Northern Ireland. Last June he established the New Ireland Forum, consisting of representatives of predominantly Roman Catholic parties in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Those who espouse violence, such as the IRA, have been excluded.
The aim of the forum is to achieve a consensus among these parties on how Northern Ireland should be governed. The forum's report is to be presented in April: What it recommends should be assessed carefully.
The Protestant parties of Northern Ireland are deeply skeptical and are concerned that a proposal may be made to bring Northern Ireland closer to the predominantly Catholic Irish republic, which they fear would dominate and weaken their links to Great Britain. They have indicated that they would reject such a recommendation.
The stalemate of violence and mistrust can be broken. Doing so requires the good-faith efforts of all peaceable parties. In their deliberations they must be respectful and understanding of each other's concerns.