Leading Article: Now three cheers for peace are in order

"I THINK we can do business," said Gerry Adams, as he came away from not shaking hands with David Trimble. It is a measure of how far the peace process has come - as was Mr Trimble's description of the meeting as "encouraging" and "civilised". Neither word could have been applied by a Unionist leader in the past to contact with a man who, until frighteningly recently, was an apologist for terrorism. Never has a non-handshake trembled with such significance.

Meanwhile, what has been called the choreographing of the Northern Ireland peace process continued, with the removal of soldiers from the streets of Belfast. This is spin doctoring in its highest and most morally elevated form: the managing of news and manipulation of opinion in the cause of reconciliation.

Last week, we saw the happy coincidence of Mr Adams renouncing violence as "over, done with and gone" with President Clinton's visit to Omagh. And the ground for the release of former terrorist prisoners was smoothed by the release of two former soldiers.

Step by interlocking step, the paramilitaries and their political representatives are being tied into the treadmill of legitimacy. The announcement of a permanent ceasefire by the "Real IRA" leaves only the "Continuity IRA" still fighting its war against what they imagine to be British colonial power in Northern Ireland. And the Continuity IRA is one of the least successful terrorist organisations, having never killed anyone (not, unfortunately, for want of trying).

Paradoxically, the Omagh bomb and the killing of three boys at the time of the Drumcree march now seem like the final, perverse acts of madness in a drama which is drawing to a close. There are difficult issues to come, above all that of IRA disarmament, but the prospects for lasting peace are now better than they have been since the Troubles began. For which we can thank Mr Trimble and Mr Adams, and their willingness to do business.