Peace Proposals Leave Protestants Feeling Trapped
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ The Anglo-Irish peace plan has left many Protestants feeling numb, glum and mighty confused.
``We’re trapped. As unionists we’ve nowhere left to go, because Britain has made it clear it wants rid of us,″ the Rev. Hugh Ross, a Presbyterian minister, said Thursday.
A day earlier, British Prime Minister John Major and Irish leader John Bruton came to Belfast to lay out their vision for Northern Ireland’s future.
They offered assurances that Northern Ireland’s union with Britain wouldn’t change without the consent of its people, while trying to meet the aspirations of the Roman Catholic minority by promoting cooperation between the two parts of Ireland.
The Irish government promised to drop its constitutional claim on Northern Ireland, as unionists have long demanded; and Britain called for a new elected assembly to revive local government.
All this would be subject to negotiations among all parties, followed by a referendum.
Unionists were particularly upset by the proposed cross-border bodies, in which lawmakers from both the north and mostly Catholic south would set policies together.
A headline in The Ulster News Letter, the Belfast paper with a mostly Protestant readership, summed up the mood: ``NO WAY!″
But some unionists see no alternative to negotiating _ because if they refuse, the Irish Republican Army could well break off a cease-fire that has now lasted nearly six months.
``We’re stuck with sitting down, no matter how much we may dislike the people across the table,″ said Cedric Blackbourne, whose construction firm builds bomb-resistant army bases. ``Otherwise we’ll just create murder and mayhem for the generation in front of us.″
Like tens of thousands of Northern Ireland citizens, Blackbourne has been wading through the 42-page British-Irish text, ``Frameworks for the Future.″
The document has left many scratching their heads.
``I sat with a group of people last night going through the document paragraph by paragraph, looking for some good news,″ said Eddie Kinner, who served 14 years in prison for his activities in the Ulster Volunteer Force, a ``loyalist″ paramilitary group that killed Catholics until its cease-fire last October.
``By the end of the evening I was reading and reading but couldn’t think anymore. It’s so complex,″ Kinner said.
Sir Patrick Mayhew, the British minister in charge of Northern Ireland, said Thursday that the reaction of the unionist rank-and-file over the next several weeks will be critical.
Gordon Jackson, owner of a Belfast real-estate business, said the text reminded him of leases and contracts where a single word can be crucial.
``The framework document is like that,″ Jackson said. ``You read a sentence three times to think: `Oh, right, this is what they mean.‴
Others have drawn firmer conclusions.
``I started off trying to be as positive as I could. The more I read of it the more disgusted I became,″ said Michael McGimpsey, an Ulster Unionist councilman in Belfast and one of his party’s most moderate members.
``You see the list of all the stuff that these cross-border bodies are going to take over _ energy, trade, relations with the European Union, health, social welfare, education, agriculture _ the list is endless. ... We’ll have the right to disagree with what’s happening, and that’s it.″
Major has emphasized that any changes have to be endorsed by a majority of people in Northern Ireland, where pro-British Protestants outnumber Catholic nationalists. He said Wednesday that the document was intended as a guide to negotiations, to be accepted, amended or rejected.
For many rank-and-file unionists, the fact that the IRA’s allies appeared pleased with the document _ ``Its ethos is for one Ireland,″ declared Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams _ is reason enough to say no.