Since Britain and Ireland signed the Anglo-Irish agreement in November 1985, relations between both governments have seldom been better. A developing row, however, threatens to sour relations and jeopardize the historic accord, which allows Dublin an advisory role in Northern Irish affairs.
It is a row neither side wants. It arises because of the Dec. 1 deadline for carrying out a new extradition law passed by the Dublin Parliament last January.
Irish reluctance to agree to extradition of suspected terrorists stems from the widely held perception that Northern Ireland's security forces and court system discriminate against the province's Roman Catholic minority.
Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey has made it clear that his government would be reluctant to implement extradition in advance of reforms in Northern Ireland's system of justice.
Under the new law, Ireland would ratify the 1977 European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, thus widening grounds on which people suspected of terrorist crimes in the north could be extradited to face trial there.
It is a move long sought by successive British governments which have claimed that terrorists flee justice by taking refuge in the Irish Republic.
Britain's Minister for Northern Ireland, Tom King, says ``substantial progress'' has been made in giving the Catholic minority there a greater confidence in the administration of justice. Failure to implement extradition, Mr. King said recently, ``would have serious implications indeed for relations between our two countries.''
The developing row takes place against the backdrop of widespread concern in the Irish Republic over a number of cases of Irish people jailed in Britain for terrorist offenses. Last week an appeal opened in London in the case of six Irish people sentenced to life terms in 1974 for the murder of 21 people in two pub bombings in Birmingham. The six have always maintained their innocence. The evidence on which they were found guilty has since been substantially undermined by a British Labour Member of Parliament who has written a book on the case. Doubt has also been cast on on the guilt of those sentenced in a number of other similar cases.
Says Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway: ``If a tradition of justice has not been established in a particular country, no Irish citizen should be extradited [there].''
King denies that extradition and judicial reforms are linked in the Anglo-Irish agreement, though both appear in the same clause.
However, former Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald, the main architect of the 1985 accord, has said he understood that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would reform the controversial ``Diplock Courts.'' Northern Ireland set up these courts in the mid-'70s to try those charged with terrorist offenses. They are nonjury courts where judgement is dispatched by a single judge, to limit the possibility of paramilitary groups intimidating jurors.
Dr. Fitzgerald says Mrs. Thatcher led him to understand that these would become three-judge courts. The reform, expected following British elections in June, has not yet taken place.