HOPE IN “NO MAN’S LAND”

 

 

 

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 §1    No flag ever flies over Northern Ireland’s Brownlow College, thirty miles south of Belfast. Not the Union Jack. Not Ireland’s green, white and orange. Not even the star-speckled banner of the European Union. “That’s controversial here too”, says principal Errol Lemon, only half joking. The secondary school’s students begin alternate days of the week by reciting the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer. The rest of the school week they say it the Roman Catholic way. The compromise seems quite satisfactory to all of Brownlow’s students, Catholic and Protestant alike. Simon Murphy, 16, calls his school “no man’s land” - and he says it with pride. Brownlow is more than a haven from Ulster’s chronic sectarian woes. As Murphy and his fellow students see it, the school proves that Catholic and Protestant children can accept their differences and work together in peace.   Sound     Up 

 

§2    That ideal continues to elude Ulster’s grown-up leaders. Formal peace negotiations are supposed to begin by the end of February, but for months the politicians have remained deadlocked over preconditions for the talks. The province’s majority unionists, backed by Britain, demand that the Irish Republican Army begin disarming before the talks can open. The IRA says disarming would signal surrender unless talks produce positive results. For the past two months an international commission headed by George Mitchell, the former US Senate majority leader, has studied the impasse. He attacked the problem with all the insight he could muster from his years of brokering tough political compromises. Last week Mitchell delivered what he hoped was at least an ingenious solution, if not a Solomonic one: split the difference. Let all-party talks begin after all sides pledge non-violence and let the IRA disarm during the talks.   Sound     Up 

 

§3      The solution solved nothing. John Major rejected the plan, insisting it offered the Unionists too little. Instead, the British Prime Minister unveiled a whole new precondition. Talks could begin as planned, he said - if all parties would agree to the creation of a new negotiating forum, to be made up of delegates elected by a special, province-wide popular vote in April or May. Irish nationalists wanted no part of Major’s deal. To them, this new forum bore a grim resemblance to Ulster’s old Protestant-dominated provincial legislature, whose roughshod disregard for the rights of the Catholic minority provoked much of the bloodshed of the 1960s. As Mitchell remarked, summing up his two-month study, the place houses “vast inventories of historical recremination”.   Sound     Up 

 

§4     Yet it also harbours hope. The seventeen-month-old ceasefire has brought about some remarkable changes. One example is the proliferation of religiously integrated “no man’s land” schools like Brownlow College. On graduation day in 1994, there were only four such secondary schools in the entire province. Today there are nine. By the fall of 1997, the number is expected to rise to fourteen. Planners at the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education predict that at least five percent of Ulster’s young people will be enrolled in such schools by the end of the decade. “We just do our little bit”, says principal Lemon. Eventually, Ulster’s grown-up politicians will have to find a way to do theirs.   Sound     Up 

 

 

Daniel Pedersen, Brownlow Newsweek, February 5th, 1996.