British government blamed for end to peace with IRA

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The Independent Online
Opinion in the Irish Republic tends to hold the British government rather than the republican movement responsible for the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire, according to a Dublin opinion poll.

This conclusion came as North-South divisions appeared to harden within Irish nationalism over the election plan favoured by the British government and Unionist parties.

Weekend comments confirmed that Dublin is prepared to consider the idea under certain important conditions, but the Social Democratic and Labour Party, by contrast, has declared itself "unanimously and vehemently opposed" to an election. Amid hopes in Downing Street that the two prime ministers would be able this week to announce the date of a summit meeting, it was confirmed that John Major will meet John Hume, leader of the SDLP, today and David Trimble, the Ulster Unionists' leader, tomorrow.

The opinion poll, carried out for the Dublin Sunday Independent, established that 76 per cent of a sample interviewed in the Republic held the IRA and Sinn Fein primarily responsible for the London Docklands bombing which claimed two lives earlier this month.

But in response to a further question, "Who do you hold primarily responsible for the breakdown of the ceasefire?" 61 per cent said the British government, 7 per cent the Ulster Unionists, while only 23 per cent blamed the IRA and Sinn Fein.

In another telling indication of nationalist opinion, 84 per cent of those interviewed said the British and Irish governments should meet Sinn Fein leaders even though the IRA had ended its ceasefire. This appears to represent strong disapproval of the position adopted by both governments, which is that although their officials will meet Sinn Fein, ministers will not.

In Northern Ireland a people's poll for peace organised by the main newspapers topped the 150,000 vote point last night. The telephone poll, which began at midday on Friday, was due to close at midnight. By 9pm 150,399 votes had been recorded, said British Telecom.

In Belfast yesterday, a Sinn Fein rally addressed by Gerry Adams, the party president, attracted several thousand people. Mr Adams too blamed the British government for the collapse of the peace process.

The White House yesterday formally denied a report that he would not be allowed back into the United States. Mr Adams hopes to travel to the US in mid-March for St Patrick's Day celebrations.

In Dublin, both John Bruton, the Taoiseach, and his deputy, the foreign affairs minister Dick Spring, mentioned in weekend interviews the possibility of holding an election.

Mr Spring insisted that the first priority was the restoration of the ceasefire, adding: "There are difficulties, listening to Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, in relation to their ability to convince the IRA that a ceasefire is on at the present time. We have to set about constructing the package that will convince Sinn Fein-IRA that such a prospect is on the cards and enable them to convince one another to end the violence."

There were "enormous divergences" about an election, he said, adding that there must be guarantees that elections would be inclusive and would lead "straight into all-party talks, directly and on a time-fixed basis".

t Anti-terrorist officers hunting the IRA bombers are still questioning a number of people arrested during dawn raids on Friday. However, all of those still held are being interviewed about unrelated criminal matters.