Bombing leaves hopes for peace hanging by a thread

n Police find body as IRA admits London attack n Major challenges Sinn Fein over 'evil act'
Click to follow
POLITICAL leaders in Britain, Ireland and the United States are this weekend urgently trying to salvage the Irish peace process, blasted off course by the half-ton IRA bomb that on Friday night killed one person and injured dozens more when it exploded in the rush-hour in London's Docklands commercial area.

The huge home-made device, left in a small flat-bedded lorry about 80 yards from the South Quay station of the Docklands Light Railway, caused immediate damage estimated at pounds 85m, bringing to an end the ceasefire declared by the IRA 17 months ago. Thirty-nine people were injured, including three police officers, of whom five were still in hospital last night. One of them, Zaoui Berrezag, aged 55. was in a critical condition.

For most of yesterday it was thought that there had been no deaths, but last night police searching the wreckage of the hi-tech plate-glass office buildings torn to shreds by the explosion found one body and, with one person reported missing, were searching for others. Suggestions that police attempts to ensure the safety of people in the locality were inadequate were rejected by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Condon. He said: "It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity." The bombing was "unexpected" he said.

There were further suggestions that the intelligence agencies had been warned of the bombing, but had not heeded the warnings.

Despite initial speculation that the bomb was planted by a republican splinter group, the IRA yesterday admitted responsibility. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, however, said that he had "no pre-knowledge" of the outrage and called for urgent talks with the Northern Ireland Office.

But John Major joined the Irish Government in putting renewed pressure on Mr Adams to commit himself to a permanent ceasefire. Condemning the bombing as an "evil act", the Prime Minister challenged Sinn Fein to "say now that their campaign of violence has stopped, and they will never resume it again".

Meanwhile, there was speculation in Washington that President Clinton might despatch Tony Lake, the US National Security adviser, and Senator George Mitchell, who headed the recent commission on disarmament, to Belfast to offer the peace process American assistance .

Tonight Mr Major will call together senior ministers, including Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and leading security and intelligence chiefs. They will analyse relations between Sinn Fein and the IRA, and whether Friday's bomb was an aberration or a total ceasefire breakdown.

In a statement yesterday Mr Major said there was now "a dark shadow of doubt" where "optimism" had existed. He added: "The IRA once again callously threaten the desire for peace. They will not be allowed to prevail. Too many lives have already been saved, too much good has come out of the ceasefire, to allow that to happen."

A meeting between Mr Major and his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, scheduled for later this month, may be brought forward. Mr Major has invited leaders of the Unionist and Social Democratic and Labour parties in the province to talks at Downing Street over the next few days.

The Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, and John Hume, leader of the SDLP, are expected to give their views on the crisis to Mr Major tomorrow. David Trimble, leader of the Official Unionists, should follow two days later. He flew to the USA for a pre-arranged visit to the White House yesterday, accusing Sinn Fein leaders of "following the leadership of the IRA in its return to violence".

President Clinton will be lobbied to back the Unionists' proposals for elections before all-party talks. The administration may also come under pressure to review its relaxation of visa restrictions on Mr Adams and his Sinn Fein colleagues.

John Taylor, the Unionists' deputy leader, called on the Irish government to "remove its veto on the elected body" which the Unionists see as the key to the creation of all-party talks.

Andrew Hunter MP, chairman of the Conservative back-bench Northern Ireland Committee, insisted: "The basic principle is that the search for a permanent peace and an overall settlement continues.

"One bomb, horrific though it was, cannot and will not destroy what has been achieved over the last 18 months, because the almost tangible yearning for peace in the republic and Northern Ireland is not going to end."

It was not a time for precipitate action, he added, but to take stock and determine how to translate that yearning for peace into reality. "The IRA will not bomb their way into talks. If that is their objective, it is demented thinking and it will not work."