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Politicians Discuss Conflict in Northern Ireland

Irish Speakers Emphasize Need for Integrated Education and Strengthened Politcal Parties

By Christa M. Franklin

Two of Ireland's prominent politicians discussed prospects for a resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland at the Institute of Politics' ARCO Forum last night.

Billy Hutchinson, a senior spokesperson for the Progressive Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, and the Honorable Alex Atwood, member of the Social Democratic and Labor Party and of the Belfast City Council, spoke before an audience of about 200.

"True peace in Ireland can only happen in a pluralist society where people are judged for their human worth rather than for their religious or political beliefs," Hutchinson said.

Atwood praised "creative" British steps towards peace but criticized Great Britain for being "unprepared to deal with a cease-fire."

Emphasizing the need to strengthen ties between political parties and community groups, the speakers agreed that integrated education is a necessary step towards peace.

Hutchinson said segregation was still prevalent in Belfast today.

"Catholics and Protestants are born in separate hospitals, buried in separate graveyards and often never meet someone of another religion," he said.

Atwood criticized recent cease-fire violations by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). "Nobody in Ireland believes anymore in the advantages of war," he said. He added that the IRA is "denying the people's right to self-determination."

He also criticized "the Republican leadership's failure to return to the people what they most desire: a cease-fire."

Hutchinson also spoke in favor of establishing a more permanent peace.

"Don't the members of the IRA know that the [Irish] Diaspora is tired of the use of violence to achieve ends in Ireland?" he said.

"Today I am carrying young men to cemeteries as I carried their grandfathers and fathers before them."

Hutchinson also said "Irish Nationalists should realize that the British presence in Ireland is not the British government, but the Unionists, loyal to the Crown."

Each of the speakers praised the other for his conciliatory words and efforts towards peace.

Atwood said Hutchinson has made an important first step by identifying himself as Irish, rather than British, despite his allegiance to the Crown.

Atwood also said "the moral bravery of both nationalists and loyalists" is "the truth" about what is occurring in Ireland today, not the images of chaos and violence portrayed by the media.

Both speakers also praised American efforts to negotiate a cease-fire and terms of peace. Atwood also lauded President Clinton's encour- agement to "take risks for peace because America will stand by those who take risks for peace."

"A time will come when America will have to take this risk through public exhortation and private persuasion and will have to help Ireland find peace," he said.

Audience members had mixed reactions to the speakers' remarks.

"I am concerned over the extent of the commitment that they will really put in the democratic process they both claim to be working towards," said Joseph G. Cleeman '98.

Sarah Dunford '98, who is writing her thesis on the peace process in Northern Ireland and is from Boston, was enthusiastic about the speakers.

"I was interested to hear the Unionist side of the debate which is never heard around here, and was encouraged by their reasonable views," she said

"A time will come when America will have to take this risk through public exhortation and private persuasion and will have to help Ireland find peace," he said.

Audience members had mixed reactions to the speakers' remarks.

"I am concerned over the extent of the commitment that they will really put in the democratic process they both claim to be working towards," said Joseph G. Cleeman '98.

Sarah Dunford '98, who is writing her thesis on the peace process in Northern Ireland and is from Boston, was enthusiastic about the speakers.

"I was interested to hear the Unionist side of the debate which is never heard around here, and was encouraged by their reasonable views," she said

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