Northern Ireland Official  
      Optimistic   

               By LYNNE TUOHY
               The Hartford Courant
               March 17, 2001

               HARTFORD - Friday was Martin McGuinness Day in
               Hartford, by proclamation of the city council, and the
               Northern Ireland minister of education was on hand briefly to
               accept the honor and vow that peace would prevail over
               political animosities and the violence that has flared anew in
               recent months.

               McGuinness, a member of the Sinn Fein party, which
               advocates a united Ireland and an end to British control over
               the northern six counties, was among the small cadre of
               politicians who negotiated the 1998 Good Friday peace
               agreement. The agreement is the foundation of the Northern
               Ireland Assembly, which includes representatives from the
               major political parties and is another landmark effort at
               self-rule by the territory.

               "It was a huge challenge to come together, sit down and
               sensibly move forward,'' McGuinness said of the
               negotiations, adding that it never would have happened
               without the help of then-President Clinton and other U.S.
               officials and support.

               "There are people, mostly in the unionist community, mostly
               led by Ian Paisley, who are hell-bent on destroying the
               agreement. There are loyalists and death squads hell-bent
               on destroying the agreement.'' And, he acknowledged, "there
               is a small group of dissident republicans hell-bent on
               destroying the agreement.''

               What those who would undermine the agreement forget,
               McGuinness said, is that the majority of the people of
               Northern Ireland - Catholic and Protestant, unionist,
               nationalist and republican alike - endorsed the historic peace
               pact in a referendum in May 1998.

               But the integrity of the agreement and continued existence
               of the Assembly are in jeopardy, amid accusations of bad
               faith and broken promises. The unionists, who favor British
               rule and are led by Assembly First Minister David Trimble,
               blame the Sinn Fein-allied Irish Republican Army for not
               promptly handing over its weapons. For its part, the British
               government has reneged on pledges to overhaul the Royal
               Ulster Constabulary police force and to remove its military
               installations throughout the six counties.

               The Assembly continues to meet weekly, however, and
               McGuinness has infused the education system with funds
               for much-needed renovations and construction, and is
               making headway toward eliminating the controversial 11-plus
               exam. The test is given to the 10- and 11-year-old students
               each year, and determines whether they proceed to college
               preparatory classes or are routed to a curriculum geared
               more to a life of blue-collar labor.

               This week, McGuinness said, both major parties in Northern
               Ireland - the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social,
               Democratic and Labour Party - endorsed eliminating the
               test.

               On his lapel Friday, McGuinness wore a simple round pin
               with a bright green stone and no lettering. Asked if it was a
               Sinn Fein party pin, McGuinness explained that it's the
               symbol of a campaign for the prevention of cruelty to
               children.

               "As education minister, I've made it clear the only emblem I
               would wear is one acceptable to everyone,'' McGuinness
               said. "It's a gesture.''

               McGuinness visited Kentucky and New York before coming
               to Hartford Friday morning. He left Hartford for stops in
               Springfield, Boston and Toronto. His rallying cry is for
               continued U.S. support - political and public - for the quest
               for peace and justice in Northern Ireland.

               When he returns to Derry, McGuinness will carry with him
               his Hartford council proclamation, a Connecticut flag and a
               framed photograph of the Celtic monument at Bobby Sands
               Circle on Maple Avenue in Hartford - a monument to the 10
               IRA hunger strikers whose deaths 20 years ago propelled
               the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.

               And he left behind a vision, one his audience endorsed with
               a sustained standing ovation.

               "The year 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Easter
               uprising in Dublin,'' McGuinness told more than 100
               lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state Legislative
               Office Building Friday morning. "I am confident, if the Good
               Friday agreement is fully implemented, we can, by 2016,
               see an end to British rule in our country. That's the objective
               we have before us.''

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