Protestant elite seek 'a lasting peace'

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PROMINENT Protestant businessmen and civil servants have told the leaders of Ulster's Unionist parties that they must try to secure a lasting peace by making concessions to nationalists, writes Nick Cohen.

A group of 25 influential Protestants, including entrepreneurs, managing directors of Northern Ireland companies and senior figures in the public sector, issued a statement yesterday which was highly critical of the Unionist parties' grudging response to the ceasefire.

Protestants were missing 'our best chance' of creating a peaceful, pluralist society which could win Roman Catholic support for promoting the retention of the Union as the best option for the whole community, the group said.

Many Unionist politicians have claimed that the ceasefire represents a victory for the 'pan-nationalist axis' of Dublin, Irish Americans, John Hume's SDLP and the IRA.

But in its statement, given to this newspaper, the group says: 'However much is made by some of our fellow Unionists that the British Government is encouraging the notion that 'violence pays' . . . it is hard to see what the IRA has actually achieved apart from death, destruction and incalculable grief.'

All the violence had done was clarify the 'inescapable truth' that the Republic has no intention of uniting with Northern Ireland against the wishes of the northern majority.

The members of the group, whose names are known to the Independent on Sunday, have asked for anonymity because they fear for their safety. They say: 'The real challenge to us now is to urge our Unionist leaders to create a pluralist society at ease with itself.'

They call on Unionist politicians to support all-Ireland institutions to promote trade and tourism, even though any new structures would involve the Republic in the affairs of the North.

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Ceasefire special, pp 15-17

Leading article, page 18