IRA signals a historic ceasefire: Announcement 'within weeks' will not meet crucial criterion laid down by British and Irish governments

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE IRA will declare a substantial ceasefire within the next few weeks. This potentially historic step may signal the opening of a new phase in the 25-year Troubles.

The announcement may include demands on the British Government and a provision that the IRA will feel free to retaliate against Protestant paramilitaries in the event of loyalist attacks.

However, according to republican sources, the principle that the IRA should suspend its campaign has been accepted by the leadership. IRA units are understood to have been informed of the impending stoppage, but the clear understanding is that violence can be expected to continue right up to the moment that the ceasefire comes into effect.

It is not known whether the ceasefire will be for a stated period or if the question of its duration will be fudged. The message will be projected that the IRA has made a goodwill gesture of great significance, and that a response from the British government will be needed to prolong it. Republican sources remain vague on exactly when the announcement will come, but the impression is that it will be within weeks.

In republican terms the step will be a dramatic one, coming as it does from a leadership that has for more than a decade set its face against ceasefires in advance of major concessions from the British Government. Now the republicans believe their goals may be more productively pursued through politics than through violence.

Although it is dramatic in itself, the announcement will not meet the criterion laid down by both the British and Irish governments that the republicans must abandon violence permanently before gaining full admission to the political processes. The governments now face the difficult task of working towards a complete cessation without making concessions to a republican movement which retains the option of returning to violence.

The importance of Irish-America in helping to move the republicans towards politics was symbolised in Dublin yesterday when a high-level Irish-American delegation met both the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and his deputy, the foreign minister, Dick Spring. The leader of the delegation, the former congressman Bruce Morrison, said after the meeting that he believed a decision on ending IRA violence was imminent. 'We are on the brink of a decision about the question of the use of force in Northern Ireland, and we hope that decision will be the right one.'

The Americans are to meet Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders in Belfast today. Stressing the delegation's 'utmost respect' for the Irish government's position, Mr Morrison twice referred to Mr Reynolds' 'leadership' of the peace process and the widespread appreciation of this in the US. He said he was not operating on behalf of President Bill Clinton but confirmed he would give a report to the White House.

Newspapers in both Belfast and Dublin are now speculating on an almost daily basis on the near-certainty of a ceasefire, with republican sources taking few steps to damp down such conjecture.

The Dublin Irish Times yesterday predicted that the IRA would call an indefinite ceasefire by next Wednesday at the latest, while reserving the right to defend nationalist areas against loyalists. It added that Mr Adams was likely to receive another American visa within weeks of the announcement.

In Belfast the Irish News said a ceasefire would almost certainly be called in the first weeks of September, with the IRA indicating it could be extended if the right signals were received from the Government.