Margaret Thatcher's approach to the problem of Northern Ireland will, I believe, be generally applauded in a few years time. To many her talks with Charles Haughey, Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, have an air of mystery so thick that it might better be called one of unreality. Mr. Haughey hailed the first talks as the greatest breakthrough for 50 years. MRs. Thatcher for her part said there was nothing particularly new or exciting about them. Could both be right?
My own opinion is, yes they could.
Consider these things: Nobody of influence outside the ranks of the Provisional IRA believes for one moment that achievement of a United Ireland is possible either while the IRA campaign of bombing, shooting, arson, wounding, and murder continues or remains in living memory. Mr. Haughey himself, I know, doesn't believe it. And you can be absolutely sure the Rev. Ian Paisley doesn't.
But nobody outside the rank of the most militant Ulster Unionists (who support union with Great Britain) believes that peace can come to Ireland while political Protestants refuse to acknowledge that they live in the island of Ireland, or while they refuse to share power in their community with Catholics simply, so it seems, for dogmatic reasons.
At the same time there is nobody involved in these events -- I stress, nobodym -- who believes that if Great Britain withdrew its troops from Northern Ireland while the IRA campaign goes on, and Protestants who suffer from it mobilize, the consequence could be anything but civil war. The troops were put on the streets originally to protect Catholics from Protestant violence, although their role by now has been reversed.
So two imperative priorities remain: (1) The IRa campaign of violence has got samehow to be halted. (2) Civilized contact between the Republic and the North, and between Catholics and Protestants, has to be restored and improved.
For both leaders these imperatives pose difficult and even dangerous problems. Most republican Irish, while they do not agree with the terror tactics of the IRA, back the ultimate political objective of a united and republican Ireland. Sympathy for hunger strikers like Bobby Sands, convicted of crimes but regarded almost throughout Ireland as martyrs for the great cause of unity, is inevitable and itself becomes a powerful political force.
But amont the more-than-a-million monarchist Protestants in the North any proposal to set up joint institutions with the Republic is regarded as a sell-out, aimed at delivering them and their families to the Ireland represented by the IRA. Not long ago the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the most militant Protestants, after accusing Mrs. Thatcher to her face of "treachery," mustered nearly 1,000 armed men in the dark on an Ulster hilltop as a warning of wat British talks with Budlin might lead to.
However, one expects Mr. Haughey and Mrs. Thatcher to continue on their way toward an accommodation of sorts. Mr. Haughey probably will return to the theme that cooperation between Great Britain and the Republic will lead toward unity. Mrs. Thatcher will repeat her guarantees to the Protestants that it won't, at least not until a majority in the North prefers that solution. But cooperation will continue and will grow.
Both know that only if the IRA terror ceases, and only if there is a period of genuine purposeful cooperation between London and Dublin, can peace in the island return. And only a peace returns can a civilized solution to the problem be hoped for, in which the human rights of all in Ireland, Prote stant, get equal aknowledgement.