Finding common ground for N. Ireland

The latest incident of violence in Belfast need not derail the tentative efforts of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland to find common ground toward bringing peace to Northern Ireland. Dialogue is under way between representatives of the two nations to build a foundation for fruitful results from the scheduled late-fall meeting between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald.

At that time Mrs. Thatcher is expected to give Britain's official response to the initiatives of last May's report by the New Ireland Forum, a gathering of representatives of Roman Catholic parties that oppose violence. British counterproposals would help to move the peace process one step further forward.

Expectations for the Thatcher-FitzGerald meeting should not be raised unduly. The view already has been expressed that the effort to find areas of agreement is likely to result in modest initial steps toward the goal of total resolution of conflict in Northern Ireland.

All parties need to keep this long-term goal uppermost in thought, and avoid the temptation of focusing exclusively on last Sunday's violence. At the same time, there are lessons in the Sunday violence for all who wish to avoid a repetition.

It was clearly provocative of Sinn Fein, the legal political arm of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, to bring an American whom the British had banned to speak to a rally.

It was poor judgment and an excessive use of force for the Northern Ireland police to charge into a then-peaceable crowd, using truncheons and plastic bullets that produced a fatality. By so doing the government played into the hand of Sinn Fein and the IRA, thereby strengthening divisive elements.

It was questionable judgment for the British to have banned from Northern Ireland Martin Galvin, the American lawyer who is publicity director of the Irish Northern Aid Committee, suspected of raising money for guns for the IRA. It should have been anticipated that the banning order would be extremely difficult for government police to enforce.

Last, Americans who genuinely care about the Irish people should refrain from injecting themselves into the Northern Ireland problem. Mr. Galvin should have stayed home.

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