Decision Time in Northern Ireland

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And you thought filing your taxes was tough. Householders across Ulster will be checking the fine print on the 75-page Northern Ireland peace accord Tuesday, as several hundred thousand glossy copies of the deal drop onto doormats. Its the beginning of a British government campaign to encourage people in the province to vote in next months referendum -- a campaign that stops short of calling for a yes vote. The dominant political slogan here for a long time has been Ulster Says No, so it can be counterproductive to just come out and say it, said a Northern Ireland Office spokesman.

While the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Sinn Fein back the deal, minority Unionist parties and a splinter group of IRA gunmen have come out strongly against it. What we will not do... is engage in a process that ignores Britains centuries-old subjugation of the Irish nation, read a statement from the Irish National Liberation Army. Which shows how difficult it will be to achieve the next goal on the road to peace -- the decommissioning of weapons.

As if that didnt give party leaders enough to argue about, a hot little debate has broken out over whether a visit by President Clinton in mid-May would help or hinder the referendum. Nationalists say it would help; Unionists say it would hinder. If they think I should go -- and theyve got the biggest stake and the closest sense of the public -- I would be happy to do it, Clinton said Monday. If all goes well, hell be dispensing up to $100 billion in investment goodies. No doubt Ulster will say yes to that.