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N. Ireland on Course

September 3, 1998



Britain and Ireland have announced a policy response to the terrorist bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Both governments will employ tough new laws designed to strengthen their ability to detain, interrogate, and convict suspects in that crime, which killed 28.

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These steps, while "draconian," to use Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's word, are deemed necessary. They'll have to be applied with restraint, keeping in mind that "iron fist" tactics can make martyrs of those who don't deserve that status. The police's quarry is a small band of extremists: the "Real IRA," which splintered off from the Irish Republican Army in protest of that group's participation in last spring's peace agreement. The Real IRA has claimed responsibility for Omagh.

More important than the policy response to Omagh, however, has been the public response. People on both sides of the sectarian divide, and the main parties representing them, have united in abhorring the violence.

Of particular note, the Irish Republican Army's political arm, Sinn Fein, this week publicly disavowed the resort to bombs and guns. Party leader Gerry Adams invited all sides in Northern Ireland "to work politically to make the Omagh bombing the last violent incident in our country." He proclaimed the era of violence "over, done with and gone."

Mr. Adams's words, though welcome, met with some skepticism. Unionist leader David Trimble, who'll hold the highest post in the Northern Ireland Assembly set up by the peace agreement, said he'll wait for corresponding actions. He rightly wants to see the IRA turn in its weapons - a step included in the peace plan. A commission charged with decommissioning weapons should soon start work. It'll have a key part in building trust and, perhaps, making possible a long-awaited handshake between Trimble and Adams. President Clinton, arriving in Northern Ireland today, will lend his backing to this process.

Clearly, those working for peace have a growing constituency. The May vote in favor of peace set a clear course. That course was sustained through the tense summer marching season. The tragedy in Omagh only confirmed that there's no other.