Last change saloon

In the ten-page document on the Northern Ireland peace process issued jointly by the British and Irish governments the only paragraph that really matters is the one with 67 words about the decommissioning of IRA arms. And of those 67 words the only ones that really matter are these: “Decommissioning of IRA arms is an indispensable part of the Good Friday Agreement.” For the rest the document proposes progress in demilitarisation by Britain and full implementation of the Patten report on reform of Northern Ireland's police force - both demands made by Sinn Fein. A few crumbs are thrown to the Protestant Unionists but everyone knows that they are interested only in the whole loaf of IRA decommissioning. There are two schools of thought about the brevity of the reference to decommissioning. One is that the British and Irish governments have reached a dead end on concessions for both sides and are just hoping for the best. The other is that they have assurances that the IRA will, at last, make a significant move on decommissioning and that everything else will pale into insignificance. We shall know which interpretation is right on Monday when responses from all the parties involved are due. If there is nothing positive from the IRA, or if it offers another of its obscurantist statements which needs months of further study, the two governments will have to decide whether to call fresh elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly or to re-impose direct rule. Should the latter be the choice, the rule might well be undertaken jointly by London and Dublin for the first time the implications of which the Unionists should consider very carefully indeed.


Blair in Latin America

At first sight it was difficult to understand why Tony Blair was making speeches in Mexico about the need for reform in the economic procedures of the European Union. Had someone put the wrong text in his suitcase? But as he followed up with similar speeches about world trade in Brazil and Argentina his purpose became clear - he is engaged in an attempt to enlist the support of the governments of these countries for his conviction that what the world needs is not anarchist protests against globalisation at G8 summit meetings but a strategy for harnessing the potential benefits of globalisation for poorer countries through increased and more open trade. Mexico has already made arrangements in this direction through its membership of the North American Free Trade Agreement but Argentina and Brazil are potential economic giants which have failed to reach their potential partly because of the trade barriers they have erected against the outside world and partly as the result of poor economic management. Both now have elected reformers in charge who should be encouraged to preach and practise the mutual benefits of free trade so that the restriction-minded nations of the European Union are reminded of the example that the world expects of them. It might be said that Mr Blair should worry more about the problems on his own doorstep and spend less time proselytising abroad on global matters. But he sees more clearly than most European politicians that global and domestic issues are now intricately linked and have to be considered together.



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