BOTH THE British and Irish parliaments have now ratified their governments' new pact on Ulster. The agreement, signed in early November by Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald, sets up a bi-national commission to work toward a resolution of political, legal and security problems in Northern Ireland. The commission has no governing power, and the province will remain a part of Great Britain. But the new body will serve as a forum for discussing and, it is hoped, easing the conflicts that have led to so much bloodshed in recent years.
Almost a third of the members of the Irish parliament voted against approval of the Ulster pact. There, Dr. FitzGerald's opponents argued that the accord did not go far enough in advancing Irish unity. But in London the agreement was approved on a ten to one vote, with only a handful of Conservatives joining the Protestant members from Northern Ireland in opposition. These Unionists, led by the Rev. Ian Paisley, have now announced that they will resign from parliament in order to force a series of by-elections early next year. They mean the elections to serve as a kind of referendum on the treaty, giving their constituents an opportunity to demonstrate the "universal, cold fury" with which they view the agreement.
This political step on the part of the Unionists was to be expected. So was the large street demonstration held recently in Belfast. And in a situation that is so emotionally charged, these peaceful responses deserve respect. Rev. Paisley, who a few weeks ago was speaking of weapons, arsenals and fights to the death, assured his parliamentary colleagues that "There is going to be no rioting in the streets . . . no civil commotion. We are going to use democratic practices."
Surely the people of Ulster, both Protestant and Catholic, must be fed up with the violence that has characterized their centuries-old enmity. The negotiators who devised the new bi-national forum have offered an alternative. It is not a solution, but it is a first step. The members of the commission will begin their work this week. If they can proceed in an atmosphere that is free of violence, though not of opposition, then there may be hope for peace in Ulster.