Britain and Ireland Seal New Ulster Deal
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Britain and Ireland, embarking on an unprecedented search for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, immediately drew threats of political violence in the troubled British province.
However, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said she preferred not to talk of the difficulties likely to follow Friday’s signing of an Anglo-Irish accord that gives the Irish Republic a voice in Northern Ireland affairs.
″I know there’ll be those. But I just hope that the overwhelming majority of the people who believe in freedom, democracy and justice will combine together to make this agreement work,″ she said.
Mrs. Thatcher spoke at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald after they signed the historic pact at an 18th century castle in the village of Hillsborough, 10 miles south of Belfast.
The Thatcher-FitzGerald meeting was their first in Northern Ireland and it emphasized their commitment to ending the strife between the provinces’ 1 million Protestants and half-million Catholic citizens.
Under the pact, Britain retains full sovereignty over Northern Ireland and Ireland recognizes that its dream of unifying the entire island can be done only with the acceptance of a majority in the province.
It also sets up an Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to, among other things, improve relations between the Protestant-dominated security forces and minority Catholics. It also will try to strengthen ″public confidence″ in a court system in which virtually all judges are Protestants and security trials are held without juries.
FitzGerald told the news conference a major purpose of the pact is to make Northern Ireland Catholics feel ″like first class citizens ... and support for the IRA will be eroded.″
Mrs. Thatcher is expected to steer the pact easily through her Parliament.
FitzGerald, however, has only a slender majority in the Irish Parliament, with 86 of 166 seats in its lower house. Opposition leader Charles Haughey, a former prime minister and head of the Fianna Fail party, said he will not support the accord.
Mainstream elements in both Britain and Ireland welcomed the agreement.
″Any sort of change is a good thing in this crazy place,″ geologist Aidan O’Reilly, a Catholic, said in Ulster.
″We favor the idea of talks. Let’s negotiate by all means,″ said an elderly Protestant woman who refused to give her name.
But the mainly Catholic Irish Republican Army and its legal political wing, Sinn Fein, showed only disdain for the pact and claim it sells out the Irish constitution’s goal of unifying the island.
The IRA claimed responsibility for setting off a landmine that killed a provincial policeman and wounded a second officer on a patrol near the border Friday.
Protestant militants, who burned an Irish flag and jostled with police in Hillsborough, also called the pact a sell out, but by the British.
An outlawed Protestant paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, threatened to kill Dublin’s representatives in the Anglo-Irish Conference, and said Irish citizens would be in danger visiting the province.
A Protestant taxi driver in Ulster, Ray McColl, said, ″There will be a lot of trouble because we are totally opposed to this deal. We are British. That’s all we want.″
John Brown, a fellow Protestant, said, ″It will only promote more bloodshed and violence in the North because if we cannot overturn this deal constitutionally, we will not hesitate to take physical means to overthrow it, including force of arms if necessary.
The Rev. Ian Paisley, fiery leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said he and other Northern Ireland Unionist members of the British Parliament would resign their seats if the body approved the pact.
Their resignations would force by-elections in the province, a form of referendum on the pact.
The Unionists - so-called because they insist on union with Britain - were encouraged when a former aide of Mrs. Thatcher, Ian Gow, resigned as junior minister in the Treasury. Gow said involving ″a foreign power″ in Northern Ireland’s affairs ″will prolong and not diminish Ulster’s agony.″