Movement toward the center

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IN Northern Ireland, a land where the anniversaries of battles fought three centuries ago are observed as proudly as if they were in the personal memories of the marchers, a notable first anniversary was marked over the weekend. Marked, that is, if not quite celebrated.

Last Nov. 15 saw the signing of the Hillsborough Agreement between Britain and Ireland, which gave Dublin a consultative role in governing Northern Ireland.

Unionists, seeing the accord as a first step toward sectarian rule by Dublin, have fought the accord - so bitterly, in fact, that they have helped convince constitutional nationalists that the accord must have some real value to the Roman Catholic community, or the unionists wouldn't be so worked up.

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Now after a year during which both London and Dublin have insisted that the accord is a ``process'' and not a ``solution,'' polls are indicating that support for the moderate parties on both sides has grown at the expense of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists (the Ian Paisley faction). The security forces are seen as more evenhanded than before.

And with Parliament back in session in Westminster, it is hoped that legislation will be forthcoming to solve some symbolic but important issues such as the use of the Irish flag and language, as well as the problem of residents of Northern Ireland who, because of birth in the South, are effectively kept from voting in local elections.

Let's hope that unequivocal support from London and Dublin will continue to nurture the tender shoots of moderation.

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