N. Ireland Peace Locked in Limbo

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A Belfast Catholic child is prevented by rioters from attending school

TIME.com: Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble plans to resign by July 1 if the IRA doesn't start decommissioning its weapons. Is there even the slightest possibility that decommissioning may begin by that date?

Jef McAllister: The IRA doesn't have to actually start decommissioning; it just has to say something that makes people believe that it's really going to start. There doesn't appear to be a chance of that happening, for several reasons. If they are going to do it they've left it late. The IRA's leaders hate seeming to be pushed into anything by the Unionists, and I don't think they want to rescue Trimble in particular. If they're going to deliver a concession I think they'd do it later, when they could say they're doing it for their own reasons and not to settle Unionist political problems.

Sinn Fein did well in the recent elections, both in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. They won more seats than they had before and out-polled the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labor Party) slightly. Their being intransigent on weapons hasn't hurt them politically, and as long as they don't use the weapons they can say they're doing enough under the agreement, while at the same time fracturing the Unionists. That's the optimistic view, the other is that this turns into another long slanging match.

There is some concern that all of the Unionists, not just Trimble, may resign from the Northern Ireland Governing Authority. If he is the only one who resigns, the British and Irish governments have until August 12 to find an agreement to keep the government from collapsing. But if they all resign, the governments will have to move much faster and it will all be more of a mess. It's possible that some kind of a deal can be worked out, but I think it's unlikely.

Is the Good Friday Agreement doomed?

It's never going to be doomed. In some ways it's built into the assumptions of the place. Northern Ireland is much more prosperous now, and the generation of people that wanted to throw bombs and kill people is essentially all grandfathers now. They've come to the fundamental political decision that they're going to live together some way or another. That doesn't prevent hotheads from making life unpleasant for people, but I think it's unlikely that we're going to have big bombing campaign or an increase in paramilitary actions. I don't think there's the stomach for it.

They may need to rework the Good Friday Agreement, but they're not going to find a better way — they can't just do away with the joint government. In fact, most people pretty much like the arrangement.

It'll come down to decommissioning again. As long as Unionists are willing to hold their breath about decommissioning, it's better than the IRA saying 'we won't do anything at all' and taking the weapons out and using them again. It's going to be a mess, but a mess that continues along its current lines.

This won't be the first time Trimble has resigned — what happened last time?

They froze the parliament in place before his resignation become effective. The British government suspended the legislature, and when it unsuspended it, it was able to reinstall Trimble as First Minister. Britain handled it in such a way that it was able to step him back into his job.

This time, it looks like he intends to resign as leader of the Ulster Unionists too. He was essentially reelected because everyone knew he had this letter of resignation pending and they should just let it play out. But he's unlikely to resign his seat in the British parliament or his Northern Ireland assembly seat.

Are we locked into a long-term holding pattern of unresolved but manageable conflict, then?

I think the likelihood is a holding pattern with slight deterioration. But lots of things can happen.

Has the three years that have passed since the Good Friday agreement changed the level of enmity between the two communities?

It's difficult to say with certainty, but my impression is that it has decreased. There are long-, longstanding patterns of hatred learned at your mother's knee. You can still see it in comments and disputes and riots.

I'm not sure that people hate each other less, but they're less willing to do something about it. They're tired of the fight, and they've realized that even if they don't like the people they're going to have to learn to live with each other one way or the other.