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A peaceful view of Belfast

Nic Robertson

By Nic Robertson
CNN Correspondent

December 21, 1999
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

musings at the millennium

LONDON (CNN) -- On a late autumn day from high atop Divis Mountain, the city of Belfast -- nestling at its foot -- looks peaceful.

Its neatly packed red roofs run down to the shores of Belfast Loch, where towering cranes in the shipyards that once built the Titanic dwarf the more gentle city outlines.

Scour the horizon, though, and you'll see the high walls that separate Protestant and Catholic. Despite the 1998 peace agreement that wove together the disparate aspirations of the two communities, distrust still lingers between them.

But listen to the people who walk these separated Belfast streets. Now, to hear them talk about the flaws they say they see in that peace deal, it sounds less like divisive uncertainty of the past and more like acceptance that the new links being forged can span their divisions.

Catholic and Protestant are now joined in government, in Belfast, and no longer locked in a war of words -- or worse. For now, it seems, discussion and debate will dominate.

The rapid pace of planned steps, synchronized to bring all along the road to peace, surprised those so inured to failure. Only weeks ago, bitter memories of previous failed peace efforts, some going back to the 1970s, prevented many here from imagining that the new Northern Ireland Assembly could be up and running by now. But it is.

In the daily headlines, the hard-liners -- now cast to the margins of debate -- repeat their refrains of division. They want to remind all, lest they be forgotten, that they stand on their side of the abyss and will see no one cross. They still find an audience.

more musings

But it's a common vision, if not yet common actions among hardened neighbors, that is signaling change. It can be seen and heard in words like hope, chance and opportunity, voiced now by both communities.

Step back and the picture's rosy hues return, as distance dims the troubling details. Now, step forward in time on Divis, where the driving snow steals the view, but, through the clouds, unseen peace creeps along on the streets below.

CNN Interactive: Analysis

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Northern Ireland Assembly
The Northern Ireland Executive
Houses of Parliament, United Kingdom
10 Downing Street
Government of Ireland
   • Parliment of Ireland

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