LETTER:Common sense on Ireland

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From Mr P. F. B. Clarke

Sir: I was delighted to see in the letters from your correspondents N. D. Martin-Clark and George Huxley (28 December) that an element of common sense isemerging concerning the Irish question. As far as I know, no military or paramilitary organisation that has not been defeated in battle has ever handed over weapons prior to talks on future arrangements, and I see no reason why Sinn Fein should be an exception.

The essential requirement is to start talking - failure to do so will result in a squandered opportunity to explore the possibilities of a lasting peace - probably the best opportunity for a lifetime.

The Unionists should, of course, be persuaded to join any such meeting, but if they felt unable to do so, tentative discussion should still take place between the British government and Sinn Fein. I suspect that if the Unionists saw that topics affecting their lives might be mentioned in their absence, they would find that they were able to attend after all - if only to disrupt the proceedings - and this would be preferable to the present slow and certain death of the whole peace concept.

Your columnist Andrew Marr ("Now for the year when the lull breaks", 28 December) writes that the present Irish peace is a form of desirable waiting - a lull. But it seems that his normal political insight does not enable him to see that just waiting is bound to destroy all the hopes of all right-minded Irish people.

No one knows if such talks could be successful - but it will be a tragedy if no one takes the trouble to find out.

Yours etc,

P. F. B. Clarke

Woodbridge, Suffolk

29 December