But now, at least, there is a reason to hope.
Northern Ireland peace talks ended April 10, producing a settlement demanding concessions from Catholics and Protestants alike, while providing the first glimpse of peace to cross the island since High King Brian Boru united its tribes 1,000 years ago.
The agreement reached by Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republic Army; David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, the largest Protestant party; Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain; Bertie Ahern, prime minister of Ireland; John Hume, leader of the Protestant Social Democratic and Labor Party; Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party; Mo Mowlam, British Northern Ireland secretary; and several other splinter groups will be put to referendums in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on May 22.
At the polls, voters will be asked to approve the accord in its entirety, including:
|Northern Ireland Assembly||North-South Ministerial Council||Council of the Isles||Removal of Territorial Claim|
|This new body would take some responsibilities handled by the British government. Its intention would be to reflect the 1.6 million residents of Northern Ireland.||The Council would bring together leaders from the Republic and Northern Ireland to handle issues like tourism, environment and transportation.||Meeting twice a year, this new body would include representatives from the Irish Parliament, the British Parliament and new assemblies to be established in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.||Applying exclusively to the Republic, the government must agree to remove portions of its constitution that make territorial claims on Northern Ireland.|
The groups have been in talks since 1996 trying to end the violence that has killed more than 3,200 people, known locally as "the troubles," in the predominantly British province of Ulster since 1969.
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell chaired the talks and provided some of the greatest enthusiasm afterwards.
"It doesn't take courage to shoot a policeman in the back of the head, or to murder an unarmed taxi driver," he said. "What takes courage is to compete in the arena of democracy as these men and women are tonight."
Both Ahern and Blair also seemed quite relieved to have the agreement forged, despite showing the fatigue of finishing 17 hours past the midnight April 9 deadline. "Today's agreement is a victory for peace and democratic politics," Irish Prime Minister Ahern said. "We have seized the initiative from the men of violence. Let's not relinquish it, now or ever." British Prime Minister Blair said,"I stress that this is the beginning of a process of change where people can work together in ways that they haven't been able to before."