19 October 97

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week met Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast to talk peace.

He became the second British leader in 70 years to meet with a senior leader of the Irish Republican movement which wants to end British rule in North Ireland or Ulster. In 1921, Lloyd George met Michael Collins, the IRA commander.

I like the Irish and Ireland - a jolly people. I have visited both the South and North several times. I do hope both sides would be reconciled. It does appear to me that both sides are quite determined to find an equitable and just solution.

It was said by many people that the English language brings out the best in the Irish. However, people have always found the Irish a bit odd - they refuse to be English!

The Conservative Party and protestant loyalists who want North Ireland to remain as part of Britain attacked Blair for breaking the 70-year taboo, but not a few British commentators seem to think that Blair could afford to ignore the criticism because Blair's popularity is so high and the British desire to withdraw from the Irish quagmire is strong, that his efforts to push for peace would likely win the support of the majority of the British people.

Said Paul Rogers, an expert on Northern Ireland, at the University Bradford: "Blair is so popular and is trusted enough right now that he won't run into any serious criticism. Moreover, Blair is pushing Adams into a corner and Adams is responding, with more conciliatory comments. He is putting the onus on Adams to deliver."

I do not believe that Protestants' sneer and insolence will faze Blair in his quest for an honourable peace!

Adams has been criticised for failing to denounce IRA violence but he did call for a ceasefire to confer with Blair who told him that "if you don't seize the opportunity (for peace) now, we may not see it again in my lifetime."

Once, Adams had said: "For us the British Parliament is as foreign as the French Parliament, the Japanese Diet, or the American Senate." He was elected a member of British Parliament in 1983 but he never took up his seat in Westminister in London.

I also like the British and, having lived in England for many years, I pray that the seemingly good prospects for peace would endure and that agreements are concluded long before the deadline set by Blair (May next year) for the multi-party negotiations to agree to a new constitutional settlement: Separate referendums to be put to the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (Eire) before being approved by the British Parliament.

The tasks are not easy: an internal settlement of Northern Ireland, involvement of Dublin in the affairs of the North and Anglo-Irish inter government co-operation. The first is difficult for IRA as it enshrines partition; the second is unacceptable to the loyalists as they believe it is the first step towards a United Ireland.

If nothing occurs following the historic meeting between Blair and Adams, the IRA will resume its military campaign leaving Blair only with two options; either together with Dublin impose a settlement or abandon the process which has bedeviled all its predecessors.

All this reminds me of what India's first Prime Minister Jawarhalal Nehru once said: that the only alternative to co-existence is co-destruction.

*****

The United States is a polyglot of nations - the Hispanics being most of these nationalities, and many Hispanic parents want the initiative to force government school classes to be only conducted in English. However, some in the community see such an effort as a threat to their mother tongue.

There was one Hispanic child who started kindergarten class with children who spoke Spanish and a teacher who taught mostly in Spanish. The result: After five years, the child couldn't speak English well, while, another Hispanic child who started kindergarten in an English-only class is fluent in English. The parents teach him Spanish at home.

The overall result, according to Reverend Alice Callaghan, who works with immigrant children in Los Angeles, is: "These children are as bright as any children in Beverly Hills, but they are not going to Harvard or Yale because their English is so lacking."

Using Callaghan, I rest my case.

In any event, Ungku Aziz, Adibah Amin, Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim all went to English-medium schools but none seems to have suffered in any way.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the
United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )

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