Wednesday, April 16, 2003

NYT mixes up Ireland with Israel

Or at least that's one interpretation of a bizarre paragraph in their editorial on Ireland today. We are most hesitant to criticize the NYT because that's an occupation with many dubious practitioners these days, but this one jumped out at us. They editorialise about the stalled peace process in Nothern Ireland. Mostly it's reasonable "IRA should play along" stuff. But even given our nationalist sympathies we thought this paragraph was over the top:

The Good Friday accord ended decades of institutionalized discrimination against Northern Ireland's large Roman Catholic minority. The agreement restored self-government, provided for a power-sharing cabinet and set the stage for a long overdue reform of the province's disproportionately Protestant and notoriously abusive police force.

2 points:
1. Discrimination ending was a long process beginning with direct rule from London in 1972. The bad old days of gerrymandering and widespread job and housing discrimination prompted one reform after another during that period. In addition, the industries that featured the worst private sector discrimination against Catholics are in mortal decline anyway (aircraft, shipbuilding).

2. The police (formerly Royal Ulster Constabulary, now Police Service of Northern Ireland) "notoriously abusive?" They had a small extreme Loyalist element, about which the truth is slowly coming out. But for the most part they were still trying to be a civilian police force even in the face of terrorism. Many nationalists would identify the Ulster Defence Regiment, a locally recruited British Army regiment (and thus a vehicle for infiltration by Loyalist gunmen), as much more notorious than their police force. And IRA death threats against potential Catholic recruits played a role in the force being disproportionately Protestant.

We'll be watching the Letters page over the next few days to see what kind of response this draws. But we fear that there's one narrative out there for all peace processes: Legitimate Grievance leads to Violence in which Both Sides Are Equally Guilty leads to Rollercoaster Negotiations featuring Dramatic Interventions by the White House leads to Nice Topic for Editorial Writer Phil Space (as Private Eye would say).

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