Dublin's Irish identity begins to make itself heard in London
It is not just the handsome Georgian buildings, the immaculate St. Stephens Green with its tidy paths and lawns meandering beside an artificial lake, or the gracefully arching bridges that span the River Liffey that make Roman Catholics from the north feel welcome here in Ireland's capital. It is also the sight of the Irish tricolor fluttering above those magnificently doored Georgian buildings and the street names written in English and Gaelic.Skip to next paragraph
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Northern Catholics would like to see such elements of the Irish identity transplanted to largely Protestant Northern Ireland, which is governed not by the Dail (parliament) in Dublin, but by direct rule from the British Parliament in Westminster.
Catholics from both the north and the Irish Republic are pressing the British government to drop from the Northern Ireland Constitution the Flags and Emblems Act -- which bars display of the tricolor where it might prove provocative -- and another act that prohibits Gaelic (or Irish) street names in Northern Ireland.
The removal of such legislation is only part of a wider package of reforms that both John Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in the north and the government of the Irish Republic hope the British government will introduce.
If agreed upon, they'll be on the agenda of the next Anglo-Irish summit now postponed until summer. The effect would be a formal recognition of the ``nationalist'' identity of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.
Other proposals intended to head off the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its political partner, Sinn Fein, are Catholic power-sharing with the Protestant majority, a reconstituted police authority with more minority representation, as well as an offer to give Dublin some say in the affairs of Northern Ireland as a protector of the Catholic minority.
But the IRA and Sinn Fein say there is nothing the British government could offer, short of total withdrawal from Northern Ireland, that would satisfy them.
The latest proposals to bolster the nationalist image of the SDLP fall short of the ultimate solutions proposed by the Dublin-based New Ireland Forum. The forum, which brought together the three main political parties of the south and the northern Catholic SDLP (the Unionists declined to participate), suggested three alternatives for resolving the Northern Ireland problem.
But British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dismissed all three out of hand. Her manner in saying ``out'' to a unitary state, ``out'' to a federal state, and ``out'' to joint authority -- rule from Dublin and London -- was seen as an affront to Irish sensitivities. Northern Protestants greeted her categoric repudiation of the options with relief. To the SDLP, though, the forum provided both an analysis of, and solution to, their problem.
Since then, Mrs. Thatcher has adopted a far more conciliatory attitude to the status of the Catholic minority and to the feelings of the Irish Republic.
According to an informed source here, some of the moderation is due to strong pressure by Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill during her recent visit to the United States when she addressed both houses of Congress.