IRA 'ready to declare' another 25 years of war

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The IRA last night dealt a serious blow to hopes of rebuilding the Irish peace process when a spokesman for the organisation said that it did not offer "the necessary dynamic" to end the conflict.

The comment, in an interview in Republican News, is seen as a severe rebuff to the efforts of the British and Irish governments to kick-start the process by setting 10 June as the opening date for all-party talks.

The spokesman said the IRA saw the need for armed struggle "given the current political conditions". He added: "There is not the necessary dynamic to move us all away from conflict and towards a lasting peace on the basis of a viable process which by its nature ensures that the core issues at the heart of the conflict are addressed and resolved."

The comments from the IRA follow an early warning from Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, that he had been told by an IRA leader:"We sued for peace, the British wanted war. If that's what they want we will give them another 25 years of war."

The starkness of that threat was, however, tempered by accompanying statements that the IRA was prepared to consider another ceasefire if Sinn Fein was guaranteed entry into inclusive negotiations without preconditions. The Republican News interview, however, seems to represent a significant hardening of opinion and appeared to remove any of the ambiguity in Mr Adams's account. The threat, together with the assertion that there would be no surrender of IRA weapons under any circumstances, led some observers to view the door to peace as firmly shut.

Ian Paisley's Democratic Ulster Unionist MPs called on President Bill Clinton to withdraw the US entry visa from the Sinn Fein president. "The IRA is declaring war. It is going for the jugular," said Mr Paisley.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said in response to Mr Adams's comments: "Any suggestion that people are prepared to turn their backs on democracy and return to violence is a gravely serious matter and one which will strike terror into the hearts of people in Northern Ireland in particular."

However, The SDLP leader, John Hume, had said he was encouraged by the mention of the possibility of another ceasefire, and while the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, described the mention of "25 years" as unhelpful, he noted that the meeting between the IRA and Mr Adams had taken place before last week's Anglo-Irish summit which had set a date for all-party talks.

But the unscripted remarks in Sir Patrick's speech were tempered by a pledge that the so called "proximity talks" between the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland were now "coming together". He added: "Most of the parties have now been seen either together or separately by each government and they are speaking together themselves, sometimes one to one and sometimes as many as four at a time. This is exactly what we have in mind."

Meanwhile, it was announced last night that David Trimble, the Ulster Unionists' leader, and Irish ministers had finally overcome differences to ensure a meeting over dinner on Monday. Mr Trimble will meet both the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, and Mr Spring.

This was revealed despite relations between the Ulster Unionists and the Government having plunged to a new low yesterday after a row between Mr Trimble and Sir Patrick, which threatened John Major's working majority in the Commons.

Mr Trimble accused Sir Patrick of "disgraceful behaviour" for accusing the Ulster Unionists of seeking a deal before they voted against the Government in last week's Scott debate in the Commons.

Attacking Sir Patrick for being "mendacious", Mr Trimble said relations between the Government and the Ulster Unionists were "at rock bottom". It came as John Major said he would not engage in "grubby deals" to keep his Government in office.

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