IRA bombs its way into the election

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The Independent Online
As the IRA presses the firing-buttons of bombs in the north of England, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness press the flesh, seeking election in West Belfast and Mid-Ulster.

There is an election on, but in republican terms there is also a war on. If the IRA can manage it, there will be more incidents in both England and Northern Ireland, if only to send the message that it remains dangerous.

Yesterday's two early- morning bombs near Wilmslow railway station injured no one, but were intended to signal that the IRA has not gone away, and that people may be killed in the course of this election.

In the old days, incidents like these were supposed, in republican fantasy, to have the effect of driving the British out of Ireland. Few republicans today believe they are heading for victory. Bombs are seen as positioning mechanisms, aimed at placing the republican movement in the strongest position for negotiations with the next government.

Some senior republicans believe that they should have by now adopted an unarmed strategy, but those running the show believe in a blend of ballot-box and bomb.

Those who want to move to another ceasefire are acquiescing in this approach. They may disagree with it, but they consider themselves bound by the republican version of collective cabinet responsibility.

Yet at a deeper level, the two tendencies agree on one fundamental, for both believe it will all end, sooner or later, not in victory but at a conference table. The disagreement is not on whether to arrive there but on how and when.

The next British government will receive advances from the republicans holding out the prospect of a renewed ceasefire in exchange for guaranteed and speedy entry into talks.

Sinn Fein will say there should be no lengthy "decontamination" period and no pre-conditions about advance decommissioning of weaponry. It will ask for a time-frame for negotiations, with movement on issues such as prisoners.

Most republicans assume another ceasefire will probably come into being within the next 12 months. But there will be many hurdles. A new government with a slender majority, whether Labour or Tory, may be anxious to court Unionist MPs, who will certainly campaign strongly against the idea of doing business with republicans. Then there is the loyalist marching season: another disastrous summer could sour the atmosphere completely.

All that will come after the election, but for the moment things are not going entirely to the republican plan, since if the IRA had its way the politico- violent mix would contain much more violence than at present. Its problem has been that the security forces in both Britain and Belfast have in the past year had an unprecedentedly high success rate in foiling IRA operations.

Will yesterday's attacks represent a one-off? Not if the IRA can help it. If there are no more attacks it will be due to the efforts of the security forces, for the IRA will be trying hard to put itself in the forefront of this election campaign.

On the electoral front, things look reasonably promising for the republicans. Sinn Fein holds no seats at the moment, but Messrs Adams and McGuinness are favourites to win West Belfast and Mid-Ulster. They are trying hard to win seats while the IRA tries hard to bomb Britain, in order to give the next government the unmistakable message that republicans continue to wield too much political and paramilitary muscle to be ignored.

A man was in serious condition in hospital last night following what appeared to be an IRA attack on an RUC station at Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

Local people reported that an explosion at the base in the mostly nationalist town was quickly followed by gunfire and later a series of loud cracks, as flares were fired into the air. A spokesman at Dungannon hospital said a 19-year-old youth had been admitted with serious gunshot wounds.