Despite the dispute over the march, the peace process this week went into high gear with former IRA fighters and Protestant paramilitaries trading quips and showing a remarkable degree of cooperation inside the new Northern Ireland assembly in spite of attempts by the Protestant opposition to destabalize it. In Northern Ireland, after all, politics have never been for the faint-hearted -- even if things do turn ugly in Portadown, the leaders committed to keeping the peace are not men easily spooked by the sight of blood.
Northern Ireland's churches are burning and the confrontation over a banned march is mounting, but these disconcerting developments are unlikey to wreck the Irish peace agreement. Even as Unionist and Republican leaders this week transformed their eternal battle from paramilitary in nature to parliamentary, Unionist extremists began torching Catholic churches and Republican militants responded in kind. The escalating violence followed a British-appointed commission's ruling forbidding Unionist militants from marching through a predominantly Catholic neighborhood in Portadown. The Unionists have vowed to defy the prohibition on the annual ritual, which has provoked rioting in each of the last three years.