Catholic-Protestant Union Failing

Politicians dismissed the Irish Republican Army's latest words on disarmament Thursday and predicted that Britain would pull the plug within the next day on Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant government.

The IRA, seeking to maintain a government that includes its Sinn Fein party allies, said it would renew talks with disarmament officials if the government kept going. Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of the neighboring Republic of Ireland said the IRA position was "not enough."

Progress continued on another peacemaking front, however, as politicians from both sides weighed whether to join a new Catholic-Protestant board that oversees the police, a traditional Protestant preserve. Reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary into a more Catholic-friendly police force was a major objective of the 1998 peace accord.

With Thursday the deadline for all sides to nominate members to the board, moderate Catholics were the first to say yes, hard-line Catholics from Sinn Fein the first to say no. The major Protestant parties kept debating whether to support a process that has forced many painful changes on police.

The moderate Catholic party, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, confirmed that senior members Alex Attwood, Joe Byrne and Eddie McGrady would serve on the 19-member board. That ended a Catholic boycott on policing structures which dated to Northern Ireland's foundation as a Protestant-majority state 80 years ago.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said his party would not take its two seats because the reform plans that didn't go far enough. He said Sinn Fein would discourage Catholics from joining the force.

The two major Protestant parties, the Ulster Unionists and hard-line Democratic Unionists, were both expected to join the board though they both oppose much of Britain's reform plans. Neither had confirmed their nominees Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, John Reid, faced a choice of suspending the failing four-party administration for one day, then transferring power back to sustain the coalition for another six weeks or to pull the plug indefinitely as Protestants want.

Reid must act by Saturday, the deadline for filling the top Protestant post in the administration. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble resigned July 1 from the post in protest at the IRA's refusal to disarm. Trimble said he hoped his maneuver would force Sinn Fein and the IRA to move on disarmament or take the blame for the breakdown.

Instead, Britain avoided the original Aug. 12 deadline to fill Trimble's post with a one-day suspension. That bought an extra six weeks of life for the administration, which ends on Saturday unless Britain intervenes again.

Another one-day suspension would make Nov. 3 the deadline for filling Trimble's post. But Trimble, whose party has been badly split for years, is facing pressure to pull his party's three remaining ministers out of the government and force its collaps if Britain tries to buy more time for the IRA.

By Shawn Pogatchnik
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