Step by Step in N. Ireland

Both sides in Northern Ireland have their work clearly cut out. The Irish Republican Army and its political arm, Sinn Fein, must promptly follow through on pledges to allow international inspection of arms dumps. And the Unionists, who favor continued federation with Britain, must show a capacity to move toward compromise solutions to such emotional issues as reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the provincial police force that the many Catholics regard as repressive.

The step that set the next stage in the peace process occurred Saturday when the governing council of the Ulster Unionist Party, the largest Protestant political group, voted to rejoin the new Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly and an executive cabinet make Protestants and Catholics partners in government. They're the heart of the peace agreement signed on Good Friday in 1998.

The IRA's early-May arms inspection offer made the favorable Unionist vote, narrow though it was, possible. The international inspectors will soon be in Northern Ireland. That part of the process should move forward.

The police reform is sticky because it's fraught with symbolism. Can the force's name be changed? Will the British flag continue to fly over stations? Most important, can Catholics be recruited to its ranks?

Those are eminently solvable problems - especially if the thinking in Northern Ireland continues to evolve away from centuries of distrust toward a new era of community.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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