The halt to violence declared by the Irish Republican Army on Aug. 31 brought a ray of optimism to Northern Ireland's 1.6 million war-weary residents. But barely. Even if the cease-fire holds, the next steps will be even more problematic--from withdrawal of British troops to negotiations on what kind of government to form, and ultimately, whether to join the Irish Republic or remain part of Britain.
One immediate beneficiary could be British Prime Minister John Major, who staked his political future on allowing secret talks to settle the 25-year-old conflict. Northern Ireland residents also could benefit from aid packages being prepared by the U.S., the European Union, and Britain to underpin the peace process.