Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described the prospect of a ceasefire in the next few days as "most unlikely". He was speaking after an unusual meeting at which he met IRA leaders in company with the leader of the SDLP, John Hume.
The republican leaders appear, following the summit, to be hovering between rejection and acceptance of its offer of talks. The signs are that the former may be impossible to them, while they are not yet ready for the latter.
An IRA statement, issued after the meeting took refuge in Delphic generalities, making no reference to the possibility of a ceasefire.
It said: "We pointed out to Mr Hume and Mr Adams that the failure by the British government to put in place inclusive negotiations free from preconditions, the abuse of the peace process by the British over 18 months, and the absence of an effective and democratic approach capable of providing an irrevocable momentum towards a just and lasting peace in Ireland were the critical elements which led to the failure, thus far, of the Irish peace process."
John Major last night reacted angrily to the IRA army council's statement, describing it as "pathetic" and a "sick joke". Given the text in Bangkok during his trip to the Far East, the Prime Minister declared: "For 25 years the IRA have murdered and bombed. The people of Northern Ireland will be fed up to the back teeth and it is time they realised that democracy will go on with or without them."
An intensive round of talks is due to start in Belfast on Monday. Sinn Fein is to have input into these via meetings with senior government officials, but unless an IRA ceasefire is declared in the meantime it will not be permitted to meet ministers. The focus, and the pressure, is at the moment on the IRA, since all other shades of nationalist opinion have given enthusiastic support to the Anglo-Irish communique. Mr Adams, questioned about the prospects for a ceasefire, yesterday answered: "If you'r e saying to me, do I think that will happen tonight or tomorrow night or the next night, I think it's most unlikely." The accounts of the meeting between Mr Hume, Mr Adams and the IRA are interesting in that they all presented Mr Adams as aligning himself with Mr Hume in appealing for a resumption of the peace process. The IRA said: "We listened attentively to the case presented by both leaders and noted their shared commitment to restoring the peace process." Mr Hume said Mr Adams had recommended a return to the ceasefire and a cessation of violence. Mr Adams confirmed he had made it clear to the IRA that he wanted a restoration of the ceasefire. He said: "I spelled out my sadness and regret that the ceasefire had ended, and they spelled out their very frank and firm reasons for ending it. I reiterat ed my commitment to rebuilding the ceasefire." The IRA for its part appears in no hurry to respond in detail to the summit. While the pressure is considerable, it clearly does not regard Monday's talks as a deadline which it should scramble to meet. Its real deadline is probably 10 June, the date set for the opening of all-party talks. If a new ceasefire is to happen it could be declared at any point between now and then.