Dublin tries to coax IRA towards a ceasefire

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The Independent Online
THE IRISH government has launched a potentially dramatic initiative by holding out the prospect that it will respond positively to any IRA move towards a temporary ceasefire.

Dublin wants to break the deadlock between the British government, which refuses to negotiate with the IRA until it lays down its arms, and the republicans, who hold out no prospect of an early permanent end to violence.

While Dublin remains adamant that there can be no actual negotiations with Sinn Fein or the IRA before a permanent cessation, Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, has declared: 'If they offer a temporary ceasefire we will want to find a way of building on that without making any concessions to them.'

The initial reaction from Sinn Fein was one of interest, a senior spokesman commenting: 'It is an opening up of the whole peace scenario and it is to be welcomed, and it is to be explored and built upon.'

Until now Dublin, like London, has stipulated that what it wants from the IRA is a complete end to its campaign. This is still clearly the ultimate objective, but Dublin is lowering its sights.

Until very recently Irish ministers hoped for a positive response to the Downing Street declaration and believed a total cessation could be in prospect. That illusion was shattered by the Heathrow mortar attacks and other acts of IRA violence, including the downing of a helicopter in south Armagh at the weekend.

Dublin ministers have clearly taken stock and accepted that peace is not imminent. But they appear to be holding to the analysis that a substantial section of the republican movement is genuinely interested in peace and is to be encouraged.

The constitutional Irish nationalist establishment has invested much political capital in the belief that Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, is sincere in saying he wants peace. Mr Adams has been taken at his word by the Irish government, by John Hume, the SDLP leader, and by the Catholic primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Cahal Daly.

But it is now accepted the path is longer and more tortuous than had been hoped, as Mr Spring indicated in an interview with a new left-wing quarterly, New Century. He spoke of a slow and painful process, adding: 'I see violence withering away rather than being guillotined.'

There is a recent precedent for the idea of a temporary ceasefire. Last year the IRA agreed, during the secret contacts with the British government, to halt violence for 10 days to allow face-to-face talks with government officials, but that did not happen.

The IRA is nervous about temporary ceasefires, believing its leaders in the 1970s were duped by Britain into downing their arms. But it is now intertwining violence and political activity, and a tactical ceasefire cannot be ruled out.

The Democratic Unionist party deputy leader, Peter Robinson, claimed Mr Spring's remarks signalled that Dublin was prepared to sit down with Sinn Fein if the IRA announced a temporary ceasefire.

But Mr Spring told Irish radio that was not a right reading of his remarks. He added: 'It doesn't look as though Sinn Fein-IRA are prepared to make the ultimate decision to give up violence . . . . It looks like they are inching away from violence in certain respects and that they may well be doing that over a period of months.

'Now, if they were to declare a ceasefire then obviously the government would want to build on that, and we would want to encourage . . . a permanent cessation of violence, and we would welcome a ceasefire as a step in the right direction.'

News of Mr Spring's interview came hours after an IRA mortar brought down an army helicopter on Saturday night. Security at the joint army- RUC base in Crossmaglen, south Armagh, is being reviewed. An RUC officer was seriously injured but the three military crew were unhurt. The helicopter was hovering at about 100 feet (30 metres) during landing manoeuvres when it was hit in the tail by a mortar round fired from a tractor parked 150 yards away. It fell into the base and caught fire.

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