IRA is playing long game of violence

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The explosive device which went off in London on Wednesday night, though small and causing no casualties, has profound implications for the Irish peace process. Unless something completely unexpected occurs, it seems to signal that there will be no IRA ceasefire before June 10.

All-Party talks involving the British and Irish governments are due to start on that date but the absence of a new ceasefire will mean that Sinn Fein will not be admitted to the negotiations.

While there is as yet no definitive indication that the bomb heralds an attempt to resume a full-scale IRA campaign, it is particularly ominous because the device shows the IRA is unimpressed by the plan for talks.

Knowing that Sinn Fein would be excluded from the talks, the IRA thus seems intent on playing a longer game in which violence seems destined to play a part.

Following the Dockland's bomb the British government technically satisfied the principle Republican demand when it set a date for all-party talks. By that stage, however, the atmosphere was so charged with poisonous mistrust that the prospects of another early ceasefire never seemed great.

The main IRA concern was to establish that the Government would seriously engage with the peace process and that the proposed talks would be, in the words of a number of Republican sources, "for real". They wished to ensure that in the talks the odds would not be stacked against them, and that negotiations would not stall on the question of the decomissioning of IRA arms.

Most Republicans, however, have concluded that John Major is in the business of making concessions to David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party in the hope of securing its support in the Commons lobbies.

The IRA, in this instance, must have been aware that the explosion coming as it did on the eve of the second reading of the elections bill would be generally interpreted as a gesture of opposition to the election.

While the election itself is not to their liking, the ground rules for the negotiations, which were published earlier this week by the government, gave the impression that London was being quite sensitive to Republican concerns.

The ground rules contained no new element of major concern to Sinn Fein, on the contrary stressing several points on which the Republicans had sought assurances. In particular the document had the effect of reassuring the Republicans that the negotiations would be far-reaching rather than narrowly focused. If Sinn Fein was impressed by any of this, the IRA was not.

The bombing muddies the waters for everyone since it appears that Sinn Fein will be contesting the election while no IRA ceasefire is in existence. This means the party will receive a mandate which will be highly dubious.

Those voting for it will not be unambiguously expressing a commitment to democracy and peaceful means.