Huge blow to republican morale

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The swoops in England have dealt a shattering double blow to the republican movement, undermining the IRA's capacity to inflict destruction in England while ruining Sinn Fein's chances of entry into talks.

The IRA will try to stage other attacks to make the point that it can still cause damage in Britain. But most immediately it must face the fact that the security services finally look to have the upper hand, and that the IRA's prized "England department" seems chronically insecure. The blow to the IRA is one of the worst setbacks ever suffered in Britain by the terrorists. The setback is all the more severe because Britain is the central focus of IRA activity: Belfast may have its beatings and occasional shootings, but not a single IRA bomb has gone off there since the ceasefire ended in February.

The IRA had put its faith in the proposition that it could refrain from bombing in Northern Ireland and exert enough pressure on the Government through bombings in England alone. In reaching that conclusion it was clearly influenced by the fact that since 1988, when it launched its major bombing campaign in England, it almost always managed to stay ahead of the security people.

It is now coming to terms with the fact that Britain has become something of a disaster zone for its members, and that "successes" such as the explosions which devastated Docklands, in London, and Manchester are now interspersed with mishaps and accidents, providing evidence that the organisation has been penetrated.

Whether or not the bomb or bombs had gone off, the idea of any government bringing Sinn Fein to the conference table at this moment is risible. The bombing has in effect ensured that republicans cannot expect entry into talks for many months, thus practically guaranteeing that Sinn Fein will not be at the table in advance of the next British general election.

Yesterday was a good day for the security services and a bad day for the IRA and Sinn Fein. But it was also a bad day for any hopes of a reconstructed peace process, for it showed that the republicans have reverted to militarism and that for the moment regards the IRA as their cutting edge, no matter the damage to their political wing.