Will elections lead to peace in Northern Ireland?
May 1, 1997
Web posted at: 12:42 p.m. EDT (1642 GMT)
In this story:
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- If, as expected, the Labour party wins the
British election on Thursday, it will inherit responsibility
for trying to solve one of the United Kingdom's thorniest and
bloodiest problems -- how to handle the Northern Ireland
Since 1969, Catholic militants from the Irish Republican Army
have waged an often violent war to end British rule in the
In Thursday's balloting, Sinn Fein, the IRA's political unit,
hopes to win three parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland.
In one west Belfast election district, Sinn Fein leader Gerry
Adams is the front-runner.
Sinn Fein winners won't take seats
Should they win, it would be only a symbolic victory. Being
anti-British, the Sinn Fein candidates would refuse to swear
allegiance to the queen and, therefore, would not be allowed
to take their parliamentary seats.
Donal Mooney, editor of the Irish Post, believes Sinn Fein
candidates have tried to broaden their appeal to include more
than their traditional "aggressive" constituency.
Sinn Fein also hopes to attract "the wider nationalist
community (by) simultaneously advocating peace," Mooney told
But that's not the strategy being used on the British
mainland, where an IRA campaign of disruption and chaos has
preceded the election.
More trouble could be in store until Sinn Fein is included in
the so-called peace process.
Labour promises new peace effort
Labour says the IRA's political representatives could take
part in peace talks within two months of a new cease-fire.
A government led by Labour's Tony Blair will concentrate on
"trying to get inclusive, all-party talks going again," says
Marjorie Mowlan, who will be Britain's Northern Ireland
Secretary if Labour wins the election.
(196K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Talks are scheduled to resume June 3, and Labour hopes to
"get some momentum going on the difficult issues," she told
(357K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
But can a new government bring new momentum?
Conservatives: Don't expect more concessions
No, answers the current Northern Ireland secretary, Sir
Patrick Mayhew. Sinn Fein officials expecting more
concessions from Labour are "stupidly" making a mistake, he
(493K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The government of Prime Minister John Major has already acted
in good faith, Mayhew says, by taking the army off the
streets, opening borders, lifting broadcast and travel bans
on Sinn Fein and releasing some convicted terrorists early.
"We made well over 100 separate responses," asserts Mayhew.
"What did Sinn Fein do? Nothing at all. They kept on
targeting victims for assassination. They kept on developing
But Labour's Mowlan, like Sinn Fein, blames the Conservatives
in power for the failure of talks to date.
"The British government should accept some responsibility for
the slowing down of the process and should acknowledge that,"
"I think it's also encumbent upon all the other players to
accept some responsibility, too."
Sinn Fein's competition
Key among those other players are the Unionists -- primarily
Protestant residents of Northern Ireland who consider
themselves British and loyal to the queen.
As the province's biggest political party, the Ulster
Unionists (UUP) represent the majority there.
Even so, their parliamentary clout grew disproportionately as
the Conservatives became weaker.
The Irish Post's Mooney believes that will change once the
Labour party takes control of parliament.
"Once the Ulster Unionists no longer hold the balance of
power as they have been .... the British government will feel
.... more confident to make an initiative which the
(anti-British) Republican movement can live with," he says.
Northern Ireland holds 18 of Britain's 659 parliamentary
Sinn Fein's parliamentary candidates face not just the
Unionists but the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party
(SDLP), which commands far more support than Sinn Fein.
While Sinn Fein winners, if any, will refuse to take their
seats in parliament, it's likely they will try to keep a high
profile by lobbying on the fringes.
There is optimism in some quarters that the results of
Thursday's election will mark a new chapter in peace efforts
-- that a new government of any stripe will bring fresh
goodwill to the process.
Others say that's about all it can bring -- that it will once
again be up to Sinn Fein to show credibility, by getting its
armed wing to call a cease-fire before any progress can be
Reuters contributed to this report.
CNN U.K. ELECTION STORIES | U.K. ELECTION SITES
THE ELECTION |
THE LEADERS |
THE POLLS AND THE PEOPLE |
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.