No appetite for a return to war, says journalist

 

While anything could go wrong in the peace process, there was no appetite for going back to war, the Belfast-based journalist Mr Eamonn Mallie told the Irish Association conference. Quoting the RUC Chief Constable, Mr Ronnie Flanagan, he said the real danger lay in the fragmentation of the IRA. "But in the last analysis the referendum is the key to the future," he said. "Anyone who says they are going back to the bomb and the bullet is defying the views of the people of Ireland." He said Mr David Trimble was potentially the most interesting unionist leader to emerge this century. His motivation in signing the agreement was essentially pragmatic. "He signed the deal not because he liked it. There are many areas of the deal he hates. But he knew if he didn't unionism was going to be washed up," he said.

Mr Geoff Martin, editor of the News Letter, said the media in Northern Ireland had an extra function to fulfil as well as informing and reporting - "to encourage the healing of division and the overcoming of enmities". When he became editor he embarked on a number of initiatives to promote dialogue. One was to publish an interview with Gerry Adams. While there were "sharp intakes of breath" when he informed the board, the next day there were two readers' complaints about the interview and 10 about a mistake in the crossword.

The columnist and broadcaster Mr Eoghan Harris drew an analogy between the relations between unionists and nationalists and personal relations between men and women.

"When you fall in love with someone you interest yourself in their family, their history. We're going to have to learn to love the political traditions of the unionists, to love the drama of an Orange march, to love the Enlightenment traditions of Protestantism." Prof John A. Murphy said there was little real interest in the South in the peace process. There was little public debate on the implications of the agreement for the South, indicating an entrenched partitionist mentality.

The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ms Liz O'Donnell, said the British and Irish governments had to find a way "through the tangled undergrowth" which had risen around the decommissioning issue, which had the capacity to "poison, indeed to threaten the very viability of the agreement". Addressing the conference dinner, the British ambassador, Dame Veronica Sutherland, said that while every ambassador liked to say their time had been of particular importance, she felt her sojourn in Ireland had been at an especially significant time, bounded as it was by the first visit of the Prince of Wales since independence and the forthcoming address of the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, to the joint houses of the Oireachtas.

She praised the efforts of schools, universities and other institutions which, through cross-Border exchanges, had added to the Belfast Agreement.