The crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process, provoked by new outbursts of violence in the province and the Irish Republican Army’s reluctance to decommission its weapons, dominated the newspapers of Ireland and Britain Friday. Several papers led on Thursday’s tripartite statement from President Clinton and the British and Irish prime ministers urging a settlement “between now and Good Friday.” In Belfast, the Irish News prominently reported former Sen. George Mitchell’s warning that history would not forgive failure, describing his speech at a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House as “the most powerful” of a week of Irish celebrating and politicking in Washington.
In an editorial page article in the Irish Independent, commentator Chris Glennon said “an air of despondency” hung over the negotiations because nobody knows what the bottom line is for either Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams or the Protestant leader David Trimble on the decommissioning problem. “There is a lot of gloom about the prospects,” Glennon wrote. “That was a factor in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations being less fun in Washington than in recent years.” An editorial in the Irish Times said Al Gore was “one of the happiest people” on St. Patrick’s Day because Irish-American Democrats had endorsed him to succeed Clinton in next year’s election. “Mr. Gore’s enthusiastic support for the peace process boosted his acceptability,” the paper said.
In Britain, the Daily Telegraph led Friday with the claim that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has softened his stance on decommissioning. It said the tripartite statement “makes clear that the IRA’s continued failure to disarm need not block Sinn Fein from the new power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.” The liberal Guardian had an emotive front page story on the initiative under a seven-column headline “Now is the time for courage,” and an editorial expressing relief that the Spice Girls had crept into the No. 99 spot in the U.S. Hot Hundred pop charts, since otherwise “it would have marked (on the authority of the Wall Street Journal, no less) the first time since the Kennedy administration that the UK record industry didn’t have a single record in the top 100 US best sellers.”
As Monica Lewinsky continued her book promotion tour of Britain, saying Thursday in yet another “exclusive” interview (this time with the Daily Express) that her main problem in life was fatness–“You can be anything in this world but fat,” she said–the Independent welcomed the return of Clinton to the fray, with his first news conference for more than a year, as “an older and wiser man, with his extraordinary resilience lending a kind of dignity to the mere fact of his survival in office. … With the peace process in Northern Ireland poised again on the edge, the White House’s full attention could once again play a decisive role,” the editorial said. “With Nato–and its new central European members–on the verge of military action in Serbia, Mr. Clinton’s skills of diplomacy and rhetoric are needed. … Welcome back, Mr. President, there is work to be done.”
Papers in Australia and in the Far East remained focused on the Olympics scandal. The Sydney Morning Herald led its front page Friday with a photograph of Georgina Coles, ex-wife of Phil Coles, an Australian member of the International Olympic Committee, wearing U.S.$10,000 worth of jewelry that he had denied accepting as a gift from a Greek businessman associated with the Athens bid for the 1996 Olympics. “The emergence of the photograph will come as a body blow to Mr Coles, who was near tears when told that his former wife had contradicted his denials,” the paper said.
In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post carried an editorial Friday calling again for the resignation of the IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. His confirmation in office was “thoroughly disheartening,” it said. “After the recent tarnishing of its image with corruption revelations, the committee badly needs to restore its credibility and regain respect. That can hardly be done so long as it remains dominated by the old regime epitomised by Mr Samaranch.”
Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung led its front page Thursday with an exclusive revelation that a raiding party of East German academics had secretly opened the coffin of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 30 years ago. Seven experts in conservation and pathology entered the royal vault in Weimar by night on the pretext that one of the clasps on Goethe’s sarcophagus had broken and his remains might deteriorate. In fact, they took the poet’s body away in a handcart and brought it back three weeks later only after cleaning the skeleton and using plastic to reinforce the decayed laurel wreath on his skull. The operation was carried out by stealth to avoid exposing the then Communist regime of East Germany to charges of desecration. The 250th anniversary of Goethe’s birth is being celebrated this year.
The Daily Telegraph of London led Friday with the news that the British government has decided to impose fines on restaurants and cafes that fail to tell customers they are serving genetically modified food. The government, which previously declared such food absolutely safe, has caved in to a powerful media campaign. Restaurateurs say the measure will be impossible to enforce, and environmental groups called it “a con” that doesn’t go far enough. The Times of London in an editorial Friday called it “a lightly cooked up fraud upon the food-buying public.”
A British press furore about dog poisoning in Italy–sparked off, as it were, by Muriel Spark’s disclosure last weekend that five of her dogs have been poisoned at her home in Tuscany–finally reverberated in Italy Friday when La Repubblica of Rome asked in a front-page headline: “Who killed Muriel’s dogs?” The subject covered a whole inside page of the paper, which described her as a “poor romantic Englishwoman” who had followed a “bucolic idyll” by going to live in Tuscany and had then had all her pets killed. Since the police told her that the poisoners were “a small group of deviants” in the hunting community, “it shouldn’t be difficult to restore, at least in part, her great love of Italy, which has been so barbarously betrayed.” (For more on this, see “The Poisoned Dogs of Tuscany” in Slate.)
In an editorial Friday, the Daily Telegraph, a conservative paper, made fun of a splendid correction published in the liberal Guardian the day before. The Guardian had apologized “profusely” to Patti Boulaye, an actress seeking election as a Conservative to the new Greater London Assembly, for having misquoted her in an interview. “This is a time to support apartheid,” it quoted her as saying. “This is a time to support apartheid because it is unfashionable.” But in fact Boulaye had advocated supporting “a party,” meaning the Conservative Party. “Because Miss Boulaye happens to be black, the reporter assumed she was obsessed with a racist political system,” commented the Telegraph. “And since she is a Tory, the paper assumed she supported what, it conceded yesterday, was ‘abhorrent to her.’ “
In Paris Friday, Le Monde’s main story was that the French are the drunkest people in Europe, with 2 million of them dependent on alcohol. In London, the Daily Telegraph reported a survey showing that children in Britain watched more television than anywhere else in Europe, mainly because their parents were scared of letting them out of doors.