By Chris Thornton
BELFAST — Northern Ireland politicians are counting on President Clinton playing a crucial role in resolving the deadlock currently threatening the peace process when he visits Ireland in mid-December.
Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister in the fledgling Northern government, said Clinton’s third visit could "steady nerves" as the parties struggle to resolve deep differences over policing, power sharing arrangements and the decommissioning of weapons.
Mallon said Clinton’s help in the negotiations "would be more than merely helpful, it would be invaluable."
"He has a unique ability to focus minds, steady nerves and encourage agreement. Those are the qualities needed to overcome our current difficulties," Mallon said. "Due to a failure by all sides to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the agreement in all its aspects, we are again threatened with the stop-go politics that has stalled our process before."
The problems deepened during the week when Education Minister Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Féin, joined his colleague Bairbre de Brún in a legal action against First Minister David Trimble.
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Trimble refuses to authorize either of the Sinn Féin ministers to attend cross-border meetings until the IRA reopens talks with the decommissioning commission about the disposals of its arms.
But republicans say the IRA will not continue those talks at present, because they say the British government has refused to live up to its commitments.
Sinn Féin is particularly angry with British treatment of police reforms, which passed in parliament in Westminster last week. Sinn Féin has accused the British government of watering down the original compromise proposals to appease unionists and the security forces.
The British are now trying to persuade the SDLP, the Irish government and Catholic church to support the Police Act, which will transform the RUC into the Northern Ireland Police Service next April.
Sinn Féin has already said it will not take part in the police’s oversight agency or recommend to young Catholics that they should join the new force.
Their refusal makes SDLP support even more crucial. SDLP members have indicated that they will make a decision around the time President Clinton visits.
Dr. Maurice Hayes, an influential figure in nationalist circles and the only Northern Ireland Catholic on the Patten Commission, which drafted the police reforms, urged the SDLP to accept the new force. He said they would have to decide if they want "90 percent of something or 100 percent of nothing."
Dungannon priest Msgr. Denis Faul, a past critic of the RUC, also urged young nationalists to join the new force.
However, nationalist support is not the only question mark over the new force. The RUC’s most senior detective announced that he is resigning rather than serve in the new force. Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson, who is leading the investigation into the 1998 Omagh bombing, said the police had been "subverted" by the reforms.