Bombing attempt ends IRA's unofficial ceasefire

Irish peace process: Policeman's murder and terror alert threaten hopes of progress in talks
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The Independent Online
The killing of a policeman by Protestants and an IRA attempt to renew its bombing campaign at the weekend have provided severe setbacks to hopes of progress in a renewed Irish peace process.

The killing has ominous overtones for the looming loyalist marching season, since parading Protestants are highly likely to find themselves pitted against the Royal Ulster Constabulary in street confrontations. The sheer brutality of the incident and the depth of feelings it exposed plainly do not augur well for the summer.

The bombing attempt also has ominous implications since it represented the ending of an undeclared IRA ceasefire which has lasted since the shooting of a policewoman on 10 April. It has dashed hopes that steady progress might be made towards a renewal of the 1994 cessation.

Last night it was disclosed that Tony Blair is to meet the former United States senator George Mitchell, who is chairing the multi-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland in London today. The talks, from which Sinn Fein remains excluded, are due to resume in Belfast tomorrow.

The landmine incident took place in the Poleglass area of west Belfast on Saturday evening when the IRA warned in a telephone call to a local radio station that a device had been abandoned in a van by the side of the road. This was an attempt to lure security forces to the area and then detonate the bomb. Police said last night that the van contained 1000lb of home-made explosives.

The return to bombing has puzzled observers in many quarters who had assumed the unofficial IRA ceasefire would continue at least until after the Irish general election, due this week. Sinn Fein has been working to secure a Dail seat in the border county of Monaghan, and bombings are believed to frighten off southern voters.

The fact that Sinn Fein and government officials have held two meetings since Tony Blair ordered the resumption of contacts with republicans had also led many to believe the suspension of violence would continue. After last week's meeting republicans were critical of officials whom they complained had not responded to their inquiries, but it had not been expected that the IRA's response to a single unsatisfactory meeting should have been such an instant resort to the bomb.

In sanctioning communications with republicans, Tony Blair said in Belfast last month: "I am prepared to allow officials to meet Sinn Fein provided events on the ground, here and elsewhere, do not make that impossible." Since this was taken as a reference to the suspension of IRA violence, the weekend bomb throws into doubt the question of whether and when more meetings will take place.

Yesterday, representatives of Sinn Fein and the other main political parties in Northern Ireland were returning from a conference in South Africa where they were addressed by President Nelson Mandela.