Sir: The prospects for all-party round-table negotiations in Northern Ireland do not look good. The IRA and Sinn Fein have not demonstrated the commitment to exclusively peaceful methods stipulated by the Downing Street Declaration. If the British Government were to set this condition aside and attempt to convene talks anyway, the Unionists would not attend. Even if all parties could be persuaded or cajoled into attending, there is no likelihood of their reaching agreement.
None of this means that the peace process is doomed, only that the sequence of events envisaged has to be reordered. The place for formal all-party negotiations is at the end of the process, not the beginning. The immediate requirement is for discussions of a different character: not negotiations, or even the debate that David Trimble has suggested, but a genuine search for a constitutional settlement that would satisfy a majority of people from each of the two main traditions.
Such discussions could take place in a number of forums, organised by peace groups, churches, trade unions, academic institutions and others. They would involve members of political parties, who would participate as individuals, not as spokesmen, so as to encourage the free exploration of ideas. They would also involve people who are not members, and perhaps not even supporters of any party. The Opsahl proceedings showed how much the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland have to contribute: their voice should be heard again.
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