New Ireland Forum likely to generate more publicity than action

The New Ireland Forum's report on options for a political solution in Ireland , north and south, will be published the week of April 30. The leaders of the main parties in the forum made the announcement in Dublin this week after yet another marathon session to try to reach agreement.

Although their report looks set to generate much publicity in Britain, Ireland, and the United States, this may prove to be the height of its achievement.

The forum was set up a year ago by the three main political parties in the Irish Republic and the Northern Ireland-based Social Democratic and Labour Party , which mainly represents the north's 1 million Roman Catholics. All four parties want some form of united Ireland through peaceful means.

But Northern Ireland's 1 million Protestants want to maintain the political link with Britain. They and their political leaders regard the New Ireland Forum and its anticipated report as ''irrelevant.''

The forum report was expected on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. It was hoped that Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald would produce the document amid widespread publicity during his visit to the US that week.

The delay in publication has underlined the difficulties the four nationalist parties face in trying to reach agreement.

Three options have been widely canvassed: a straight unitary state ruled from Dublin that incorporates the present territory of Northern Ireland; a federal state ruled from Dublin but with wide local powers for a Belfast assembly; or joint sovereignty in which Britain and the Irish government would have joint responsibility for Northern Ireland.

Charles Haughey of the opposition Fianna Fail party was understood to be holding out for a straight unitary solution. He is thought to fear difficulties with his rank and file if the forum proposes anything less.

John Hume, leader of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the man chiefly responsible for the forum, argues that the old demand for straight unity is not the best basis for attracting northern Protestant support or for negotiations with the British. His line has been broadly backed by Mr. FitzGerald and Labour Party leader Dick Spring. But even some within Mr. Hume's SDLP favor straight unity.

The latest understanding is that Haughey will drop his insistence that straight unity is the ''only'' option. In return, the other three will not press their view that it is an ''ideal'' solution, but not the ''only'' solution.

The final outcome may be a reaffirmation that the objective is a united Ireland and an outline of the three options already mentioned.

Forum leaders hope Britain will respond positively. They would like to see bilateral talks between the London and Dublin governments aimed at forming an all-Ireland state that guarantees the rights of northern Protestants.

The major flaw in Dublin's strategy is that so far there is no indication the British will take it seriously. London says Northern Ireland will remain British as long as the majority in the north want to retain the link.

It is difficult to see how Britain can make any major concessions to Dublin and yet remain true to this promise.

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