Protestant, Catholic Hard-liners Agree: Peace Offer Means War With AM-Northern Ireland, Bjt
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ The Catholic barmaid looked away from the television to scold her restless son, who wanted to watch cartoons instead of politicians.
″Shush, Daniel, and listen to them men there. You’ll be able to say you saw history on December 15th, 1993,″ said Charlotte, who didn’t want her last name used.
Much of Belfast sat around televisions and radios Wednesday as British Prime Minister John Major and his Irish counterpart Albert Reynolds revealed their overture for ending a quarter-century of strife in Northern Ireland.
Many warring Protestants and Catholics agreed that they witnessed a historic step - not to a negotiated peace, but inevitably to civil war.
″The IRA will never be beaten and they’ll never hand over their weapons just to sit down at a table,″ said Alec Robinson, 80, who bears the scars from three bullets in 1969, when Protestant mobs burned him out of his house.
Those who scoff at peace see the past 24 years and 3,100 deaths as a prologue to greater conflict.
The hard-liners are not the majority among Catholics or Protestants, but they keep the conflict going.
″The only reason Major’s making this statement is because of the IRA. The ‘Rah’ must be doing something right,″ said Gerry Gorman, 37, a construction worker enjoying a midday beer in the Kashmir pub in Catholic west Belfast.
″Rah″ is local slang for the Irish Republican Army.
The Kashmir sits about 200 yards from the ″peace line″ of 30-foot walls separating the Catholic Clonard from the Protestant Shankill. The pub has steel-grilled windows and surveillance cameras designed to ward off pro- British gunmen from the other side.
A dozen people watching the Major-Reynolds press conference saw it as confirmation of British determination to leave Northern Ireland.
″Sure the Prods (Protestants) won’t stand for this. That’s another reason why the IRA can’t stop no matter what the British are offering - we need them to defend our area,″ said a barman who would only give his first name, Danny.
Catholics were surprised, nonetheless, that Major said he was ready to talk with Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political army, within three months of an IRA cessation of hostilities. Some believe Sinn Fein might encourage this as part of an expected IRA cease-fire on Christmas Eve, but nothing permanent.
Since the British government admitted its own secret contacts with the outlawed paramilitary group, all concessions seem possible in Catholic eyes.
″The Brits have been kicked out of practically every country on the planet,″ said Geordie McNulty, 30, an unemployed building worker who supports Sinn Fein. ″We’ll be the last colony to see them off - but Major’s admitting now that they’re going. I’d like to say otherwise, but that’s when the real fighting starts.″
But over the fence on the Shankill Road, some Protestants see a British pullout as their salvation.
″You don’t need support from the British government to be British,″ said Sam McKee, 30, who walked past the site where an IRA bomb killed nine Protestant civilians on Oct. 23.
At the nearby Rex bar, a hangout for so-called ″loyalist″ paramilitaries who this year have killed more people than the IRA, the atmosphere was venomous.
″We’re just waiting to hear on the TV that Major’s handed us over to the Free State,″ said Marjorie Killen, 36, using the pre-1937 name of the Irish Republic.
″There’s men here ready to finish off their pint and get their guns,″ said a man who wanted to be identified only as Billy, 24. His tattooed arms proclaimed ″Forever Ulster.″
″The main force keeping us back hasn’t been pacifism, and it certainly hasn’t been the ’taigs,‴ he said, using a derogatory term for Irish Catholics. ″The problem’s the Brits - our Brits, the English soldiers and the turncoat (police). Get them off the streets like the IRA wants, then we’ll show the Roman Catholics how badly they need those Brits.″