Hopes die for resumption of ceasefire

Ulster holds its breath, as worst fears of sustained terrorist campaign are confirmed, writes David McKittrick
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The Independent Online
The Aldwych bomb appears to confirm the worst fears of the security authorities that the IRA is intent on a sustained terrorist campaign in England.

Some observers had originally clung to the hope that the Canary Wharf bomb could have been a one-off attack intended to deliver a "short sharp shock" to the British government.

But Thursday's Shaftesbury Avenue bomb, followed by last night's explosion, lead to the inescapable conclusion that the terrorists are intent on waging a major campaign, particularly in London.

There have been no violent incidents in Northern Ireland since the Canary Wharf bombing, but it now seems inevitable that the campaign will re-start there and that the violence will not be confined to Britain. Last night's incident also means that loyalist groups are unlikely to hold to the ceasefire which they declared in October 1994, and can be expected to resume their campaign.

Contrary to a number of reports that the security forces fully expected attacks such as the Aldwych incident, the best indications are that the authorities did not know what the IRA's intentions were.

Because of this, additional security measures in Belfast have been kept to a minimum, partly so that the general republican community could not accuse the authorities of taking provocative and insensitive measures. Although 500 extra troops were drafted into Northern Ireland this week, soldiers have not yet been deployed on the streets of Belfast.

Although the exact circumstances of the Aldwych bombing were not initially clear, there will be fears that the IRA has become even more reckless about avoiding civilian casualties. During recent months there has been speculation that, if the terrorist campaign did re-start, the organisation would abandon even the small measure of restraint which it showed in the past.

On the political front, the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland parties have been involved in a busy round of meetings since the Canary Wharf attack. Talks have centred on the ideas of an election and on Dublin's proposal for "proximity talks," but all sides have been waiting on events, to see whether the IRA believed it had made its point or planned to continue its attacks.

Yesterday the Taoiseach, John Bruton, made, in a television interview, a direct appeal to the army council of the IRA asking it to refrain from further bombings, while the Irish foreign affairs minister, Dick Spring, said the first priority would be to attempt to re-establish the ceasefire. Dublin will now be coming to terms with the fact that the next phase is to be one of violence and security measures rather than one of political activity and moves towards a conference table.

Ironically, the explosion came just as a telephone poll - which recorded 150,000 calls in favour of peace - was closing. The poll received calls at a rate of around 30 a minute.