IRA ceasefire hope raised

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The Independent Online
Hopes of a pre-Christmas cease-fire by the IRA emerged yesterday as British and Irish ministers prepare for talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Northern Ireland Secretary, is to meet the Irish deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring in Belfast on Wednesday amid intense speculation that the campaign of violence may be halted.

John Hume, leader of the nationalist SDLP, disclosed: "I have been in regular contact with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, with the clear objective of getting a renewed ceasefire. I have kept both governments informed."

He welcomed the conciliatory remarks by Sir Patrick, made at the scene of the IRA's devastating bomb blast in Manchester, when the Northern Ireland Secretary promised that Sinn Fein could get into all-party talks before a May general election if there is a "dependable" ceasefire.

"His comments are both positive and constructive, and I hope that they are a step on the road towards an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire."

Sources in Dublin also said Sir Patrick's remarks were "potentially helpful", coming ahead of Wednesday's meeting of the Anglo-Irish inter- governmental Northern Ireland conference, the first for months following a series of informal talks between the Ulster Secretary and Mr Spring.

Diplomatic observers said the close parallels in language between Sir Patrick and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator who set out hard-line republican terms for a halt to the violence two days ago, suggested that the two sides are working privately and publicly towards a formula for the resumption of the ceasefire.

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