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GIVING UP THE GUNS



Published: Fri, June 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: The choice for the Irish Republican Army and its political affiliate, Sinn Fein, is stark. They must either begin decommissioning weapons this week or the power-sharing government of Northern Ireland will fall apart. Make no mistake: If that happens, it will be the IRA's fault. While other difficult issues remain to be negotiated -- restructuring the police and reducing the presence of British troops -- a start to decommissioning must come first.

Time and again, the IRA and Sinn Fein have protested that decommissioning amounts to surrender without having been defeated. So, fine, turn the weapons in to the government of the Irish Republic rather than to the British if that will make the IRA feel it is not scraping and bowing before London. But the IRA and Sinn Fein should confront a hard reality as well: They have in fact been defeated, and in the most important arena: public opinion. In Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic, large majorities of Catholics and Protestants, including Catholics of strong Republican leanings who supported Sinn Fein in recent elections, want disarmament. They want peace, and they know it must now begin with the IRA giving up its weapons.

Resignation: Come July 1, Ulster Unionist David Trimble, first secretary of the Northern Ireland government, is scheduled to resign lest IRA arms have begun to be given up. The failure of progress on IRA disarmament has so weakened Trimble that he has no choice. With him will go the best hope of both Protestants and Catholics for sustaining the new era of peace and prosperity ignited by the 1998 power-sharing agreement.

In one sense, the IRA could credibly declare victory. It is a difficult truth that IRA weapons have had a powerful impact on Northern Ireland. From the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, when Catholic civil-rights marchers were gunned down by British troops and Protestant police, the IRA has built itself into a force that succeeded in concentrating British minds on the sad lot of Catholics in Ulster. As a consequence, tens of millions of British pounds have gone into redressing those grievances. Housing and schools and job opportunities have improved enormously in the intervening years. It is impossible to argue that such progress would have been made without the threat posed by the IRA arms, unfortunate though that may be.

But the time of arms has passed, as Catholics and Protestants both know. Enmity has not disappeared, but armed attack will not now move the community further forward toward mutual respect. Just the opposite is true. There is no more to be gained and much to lose by continuation of the IRA threat. It is time for no more guns.

OVER THE TOP

Toronto Globe and Mail: Oh, what a lovely war. It's the First World War without the deaths, gruesome injuries, mustard gas and constant, maddening dread.

As part of a series on the war, the British Broadcasting Corporation is sending 25 people into trenches in northern France, asking them to wear tin helmets, exposing them to rats and tear gas and depriving them of sleep. "The aim," says a BBC official, "is to show people what life was like in the trench."

Fear? And what will they conclude? That everyone survived? That the soldiers lived in continuous fear of sound effects?

No doubt the series will be a must-see in Macedonia, Sudan and anywhere else such realities are dimly understood.

DON'T-DO-IT-YOURSELF WINDOWS

Chicago Tribune: Pardon our skepticism about the recent announcement of a new window glass that cleans itself.

This allegedly miraculous glass is designed to clean itself by making rainwater slide down its exterior surface in cleansing sheets rather than in the usual dirt-streaked rivulets.

A permanent coating of titanium oxide allows this to happen, according to the British glass maker Pilkington, which disclosed its marketing plans Tuesday. For a 20 percent surcharge atop the typical $200 to $600 cost of a basic window, Americans can begin to buy the new variety later this year.

Mind you, we all want to believe. (Except, of course, for the Soap and Detergent Association, a trade group, which is not amused.) We want to liberate ourselves from this most onerous of household tasks and spend all our new free time frolicking in fields of wildflowers.

But let's just say the "self-cleaning" currency already has been devalued by our collective experience with so-called self-cleaning ovens, which evidently have not been clued in on what they are supposed to do. We are not yet free.

But we are still trying.

Toilets: Self-cleaning toilets are the rage in several cities. New York has some. The Seattle City Council is considering whether to spend $638,000 a year to maintain five self-cleaning privies around the city. And Los Angeles last year cut a deal with a billboard company that agreed to provide 10 self-cleaning toilets in subway stations in exchange for $50 million in advertising space.

Talk to us when someone comes up with a self-mopping floor, or self-styling hair, or a self-weeding garden.

And when that day comes, what, exactly, will we do with all the new free time and energy we save by not having to exert ourselves on such drudgery?

We'll be working longer to pay for it.




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