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Appeal for calm in tense N Ireland

Politicians, clergymen and others in Northern Ireland yesterday sought anxiously to keep the lid on the security situation in the wake of the recent IRA and loyalist violence in Belfast.

But there was little sign of any lessening of apprehension that more violence would follow from either or both sources, and few indications that the violent organisations were deciding to pull back from the brink.

There was some hope, however, that the seasonal three-day cease-fire, which was traditional before the 1994 cessations of violence, might provide a cooling-off period.

Eddie Copeland, the republican injured in a loyalist boobytrap explosion in Ardoyne on Sunday, was yesterday recovering in hospital. Politicians and clergy, meanwhile, appealed for calm and an end to the immediate cycle of violence, which began on Friday night when an IRA gunman shot and wounded a police officer in a Belfast children's hospital.

The Copeland attack, which is regarded as retaliation for the hospital shooting, is thought to have been the work of the illegal Ulster Defence Association. The organisation has not, however, formally admitted responsibility for the bombing.

Gary McMichael of the UDA's political arm, the Ulster Democratic Party, refused to condemn the attack, saying: "I am not going to get into this sort of long-drawn-out and long- standing choreography about condemnation. We must recognise that every violent event in Northern Ireland is truly tragic and we must do everything in our power to ensure there is no more violence."

Loyalist sources argue privately that groups such as Mr McMichael's party would lose much of their value if they distanced themselves too far from their paramilitary associates.

His attitude echoed that of the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, who, while regretting the hospital shooting, refrained from condemning it.

Mr Adams said: "I want to see all of the armed groups showing restraint, and I want to see people enjoying a peaceful Christmas. I also want to appeal to people right across the political spectrum to fill the vacuum which has been created."

The Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, said he was still hopeful that recent events had been "only a temporary setback". Archbishop Robin Eames, the Anglican Primate of All Ireland, said loyalist groups should realise that their political representatives had been making a great impression and their cause would be weakened by a return to violence.