Letter: Hopes for Ulster

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Sir: The press and the BBC are full of worries that the Northern Ireland negotiations may break down because of the events in the Maze and revenge killings.

Things are bound to get worse before they can get better. That they are getting worse, in day-to-day incidents, may even be a sign that they are getting better, for the simple reason that those fanatics who want no compromise will do all they can to wreck it.

Better not to get caught by the extremists in the day-to-day reporting of incidents but also to feature what the outcome of negotiations is likely to be. The leaders would not have gone so far if they did not intend compromise, even if it takes time for their party activists to see that there is no other way out. They do know that the ordinary people in both communities got sick to death of the Troubles. That led to the ceasefires, and the feeling is still there.

The sad thing is that the only possible compromises that can "square the circle" of unionism and nationalism are very little different than at Sunningdale over 25 years ago: a parliament elected by PR, a power- sharing executive, rolling devolution of powers as mutual agreement is reached, a Bill of Rights, equal status for the symbols of Ulster's two traditions, and a periodic referendum on "some form of unity".

The most difficult to agree will be the periodicity of a border poll. But it would put the big question off for a future generation to decide. Each set of leaders will air a different view on the probable outcome. Hume and Adams will count on the popular belief in the Catholic birth- rate (which demographers now question). Trimble and the loyalist leaders have a present majority and will know that about a quarter of the Catholic population tell pollsters that they do not want a united Ireland (but they may be waiting to see, quite sensibly, what is in the package economically).

I read or hear no such discussion of eventual outcomes, only over-reaction to daily incidents created by wreckers, or else bleak pessimism that only force can prevail - I mean "the security solution", which has failed, but so has the IRA's attempt to force surrender.