Politics over protest in Ulster

NO news is good news, the saying goes. The ``no news'' out of Northern Ireland is that there were no major disturbances sparked Monday, when the 297th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne was observed by the Protestant majority. The battle, on July 12, 1690, marked the defeat of James II, the Roman Catholic king, by the Protestant William of Orange. The annual parades in commemoration of that victory, the high point of the summer ``marching season,'' have often been marred by sectarian violence. But this year there were only a few arrests and minor injuries. As they have done the last couple of years, the police rerouted marchers away from Catholic areas.

This is the second marching season since the signing of the Anglo-Irish accord, which gives Dublin a consultative role in the governance of Northern Ireland in exchange for implicit recognition of the partition of the island. The accord has, to put it gently, not gone down well among Northern Ireland's overwhelmingly Protestant unionists. The unionists have boycotted the Westminster Parliament and refused to talk to ministers of Margaret Thatcher's government.

But now in a dramatic, and potentially hopeful, shift, the unionists have asked for talks with Westminster. Mrs. Thatcher's reelection has made it clear that she remains strong enough politically to tough out protests against the accord.

So now unionists seek dialogue. They surely realize that what they will hear from Westminster is that they must share political power with the constitutional nationalists. Holding them down over the years has only enhanced the appeal of the illegal Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Fein - as perhaps the unionists are beginning to realize.

In any case, the unionists' announcement is a welcome sign of the revival of the political process in Northern Ireland.

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