IRA summit may end weeks of speculation

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The Independent Online
Security sources in Northern Ireland yesterday insisted, in the teeth of republican denials, that a large-scale and potentially momentous meeting of the IRA may be held over this weekend.

With no real indications that another IRA ceasefire is likely to occur soon, speculation centres on the possibility of an intensified terrorist campaign with an escalation of violence in both Britain and Ulster.

Such a meeting may represent a move to put an end to the confusion and lack of clarity which has recently been evident in republican ranks. Few people, either inside or outside the republican movement, have a clear idea of what its strategy is.

The reports of an IRA "summit" originated with ITN, which said the organisation would hold an army convention with up to 100 senior IRA personnel present. Army conventions are extremely rare, with only two held in the past 30 years, in 1969 and 1986. Even the IRA's August 1994 ceasefire did not necessitate such a gathering.

The holding of such a meeting would give rise to suspicions of widespread dissatisfaction within the grassroots of the IRA, since members are normally content to leave even the most important strategic decisions in the hands of the organisation's army council.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he had no knowledge of plans for an IRA convention this weekend and was sceptical about the reports. But sources in the security field said they believed a meeting was scheduled.

Some six weeks ago reports that an IRA convention was being planned were accompanied by speculation that a new ceasefire would be discussed. This interpretation was quickly undermined, however, by the double IRA car bomb attack on Army headquarters in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

One soldier was killed and 30 people injured in that incident, the first major IRA attack in Northern Ireland since the IRA ceasefire ended in February of this year. Most IRA activity has, however, been in Britain, with the bombs at London's Canary Wharf and in Manchester.

The Lisburn attack was evidently intended to take as much life as possible, yet it has not been followed by any attempt to revive the type of campaign seen up until 1994, with dozens of IRA incidents each month. As a result there is widespread uncertainty about the organisation's intentions and ambitions.

At the same time as these sporadic attacks were occurring, Gerry Adams has been demanding republican entry into the political talks in Belfast. In response the British and Irish governments and almost all others involved are adamant that there should be no entry without an IRA ceasefire.

A ceasefire is, however, highly improbable in the absence of some British Government moves aimed at convincing the IRA that London has had a change of heart and is prepared to bring Sinn Fein into talks without insisting on preconditions such as arms decommissioning.

The republicans are very aware that their former political alliances with elements in Ireland and the US have been badly damaged by the absence of a ceasefire. But the feeling is widespread that little serious business is likely to be done with John Major's government.

Within the past few days Ronnie Flanagan, who takes over as Chief Constable of the RUC tomorrow, has said he did not believe the IRA intended to call another ceasefire in the near future, though he believed theywould eventually. "Our fear is that in the coming months there are liable to be more terrorist attacks in the province. We have nothing to indicate another ceasefire is imminent," he said.

A man appeared in court yesterday charged in connection with last month's bombing of Army headquarters. Michael Gerard Rogan, 36, a kitchen designer from Easton Avenue in north Belfast, was accused of conspiring to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury.

He was remanded in custody until 20 November by Belfast Magistrates' Court.