Mr Wilson, who has been described both as nave and as an outstanding example of Christian charity, took away from his secret meeting with the terrorists the sombre message that Northern Ireland could face another 40 years of suffering and violence.
His action in taking part in the meeting on Wednesday night generated much controversy in Northern Ireland. He was praised as courageous by nationalists but condemned by Unionists for allegedly handing a propaganda coup to the terrorists. Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionists' deputy leader, called for him to be questioned by the police.
He was also criticised sharply by others who lost relatives in the 1987 Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing, in which his daughter Marie died and he was injured. One man who lost his mother and father said he felt disgust and horror that credibility had been given to the IRA.
Aileen Quinton, whose 72-year-old mother was killed, said: 'They are not going to stop just because you ask them. It has given them momentarily a veneer of acceptability. That will make people feel better about supporting them, and that will be translated into more deaths.'
James Dickson, still recovering from his injuries after operations and who has been in hospital 130 times in the past six years, said the only way to deal with terrorists was to wipe them out, as the Bible said. Mr Wilson, a Republic of Ireland senator, would not reveal where the meeting had taken place, but said he had met two IRA unmasked representatives, a man and a woman, for two hours of talks which he described as friendly.
But they did not succeed in persuading him that the IRA did not set out to cause civilian casualties, and he did not succeed in moving them from their opening statement.
The IRA clearly succeeded in its aim of hammering home its sheer implacability of purpose. The meeting was a major potential embarrassment to the IRA, in that Mr Wilson represents for it an unwelcome and living reminder that it has caused many more civilian casualties than those at Warrington last month.
The organisation probably viewed this episode as an exercise in damage limitation rather than a propaganda coup. It may, however, not be displeased at Mr Wilson's evident deep disappointment and near despair, since its whole campaign is aimed at producing such a reaction among the British public and politicians.
The organisation's complete inflexibility may well deter others who might contemplate approaching it for discussions. At the same time, however, it has staked everything not on any idea of winning sympathy but on the theory that British opinion can eventually be sickened into meeting its demands.
Meanwhile, the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said republicans were shocked by the deaths and injuries in the Warrington explosion. He wrote in response to a challenge from a peace group: 'Every death and injury in this conflict is a tragedy but the wounding and killing of uninvolved civilians is especially to be regretted whether they are in Ireland or Britain.
'The death of an adult is no less grievous than that of a child but a child's death strikes everyone in a most heart-breaking way. Republicans, not least because we have also buried our children, know the agony of the families of Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry. Children are always innocent. None of the rest of us stand guiltless.'
His comments were instantly dismissed by Conservative and Labour MPs as 'paltry, mealy-mouthed and hypocritical'.
Opinion in Northern Ireland was divided sharply on Mr Wilson's actions. They were described by the SDLP leader John Hume as 'an incredible statement of Christian tolerance,' while John Alderdice, the
Alliance leader, called him a man of great dignity and integrity whose action would remind people throughout the world of the inhumanity of the IRA at Enniskillen and
But Peter Robinson said Mr Wilson had boosted the IRA campaign of violence.
David Trimble, an Ulster Unionist MP, said the IRA had manipulated Mr Wilson and the media to upstage Wednesday's memorial services in Warrington.
Wilson's press statement, page 2
Leading article, page 21
Derek Worlock, page 22Reuse content