The criticism that can justly be made of the British government in the months leading to the Downing Street Declaration is that it did not push the Irish hard enough. What was required was a joint declaration by both governments that their only objective was to find a settlement which would command the support of the majority of both traditions in Northern Ireland. The British came close to saying that, but the Irish did not. Albert Reynolds' aims remained those of old-fashioned nationalism, even though he accepted that it would take a long time to achieve them.
To devise a constitutional settlement that would satisfy both those people in Northern Ireland who want to be British and those who want to be Irish is not really so difficult. But of course the Unionists will not attempt it while they fear, with reason, that any move or concession they make will be used as another step on the road to a united Ireland. Only the Irish government can remove this threat. If it would do so now, that might just give the forthcoming inter-party negotiations the boost they will certainly need.
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