Northern Ireland's peace process has again collided with a familiar, and increasingly tiresome, obstacle: disarming the Irish Republican Army.
Only a couple of months ago, that obstacle nearly blocked the inauguration of a new Northern Ireland government, including representatives of all major Catholic and Protestant parties. It was cleared away, temporarily, by the efforts of American mediator George Mitchell.
A compromise was struck. The Ulster Unionists, the largest loyalist group, joined the new government, but only after assurances that progress toward IRA disarmament would be made by February.
Well, February is here, along with a report by Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, who is overseeing disarmament. On the positive side, IRA commanders have been meeting with the general, giving their first hint of cooperation. So where are all the weapons that need to be surrendered?
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, a pillar of the peace process, says he'll be forced to leave the new government and resign his party post if the IRA stands pat. London may have to step back in and resume control in Northern Ireland.
What's going on here?
An unwillingness by the IRA to punch through a psychological barrier and leave behind a way of life built on the threat of violence.
No one doubts that most Northern Irish, Catholic and Protestant, want the peace to move forward and the gunmen to disarm. All that's needed is a concrete show of good faith, beginning a task, disarmament, that has to come. The pleas from Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, that the guns' silence is enough - is itself not enough.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society