Window of hope opens on cold night

THIS APPEARED IN THE 2/29/88 WORLD EDITION A new window in Irish politics may be opening up between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The window offers fresh hope at a time when tensions over recent killings are straining the tie between London and Dublin. (See story, Page 11.)

The Irish Republic's prime minister, Charles Haughey, has made a surprising plea to Northern Ireland's Unionist leaders, who favor retaining the link with Britain, for talks about ``the willingness of both traditions in Ireland to come together in mutual respect and a shared sense of responsibility for our common future.''

Ulster Unionist leaders James Molyneaux and the Rev. Ian Paisley responded by ruling out talks with Mr. Haughey unless the Anglo-Irish accord is formally suspended. The accord was signed in 1985 by London and Dublin to step up cross-border cooperation.

But the Unionist response was not as dismissive as it sounds. It could easily have been down-right hostile, since the Unionists regard Haughey as a hard-line Irish Republican who wants Ireland united and will stop at nothing political or constitutional to achieve his aim.

Another leading Unionist, the Rev. Martin Smyth, was far less dismissive. He said the Unionists would consider if Haughey's offer was just a public relations exercise or if it was genuine. ``We will evaluate it and come to our own conclusion,'' he said.

Haughey's offer for talks and the Unionists' final response now depend on a third factor: whether the British government is willing to suspend, or set aside, the Anglo-Irish accord if there were real possibility of fruitful talks taking place.

The Unionists were not included in the negotiations over the accord and have opposed it bitterly. Informed sources say the exclusion of the Unionists was a major flaw in the agreement and that a constructive set of proposals from them would be given a sympathetic hearing.

In their statement, Mr. Molyneaux and the Rev. Mr. Paisley stressed that if talks were to take place on new structures for Ulster, then those engaged in the talks would seek to normalize ties between Ulster and Dublin.

But both London and Dublin apparently still believe that the agreement must stay in place.

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