IRA's message tempers threats with hope

DAVID MCKITTRICK

Ireland Correspondent

The IRA last night issued what was, by its own standards, an unexpectedly temperate Easter message, putting its hope for negotiations alongside a threat of the possibility of further violence.

The net effect will probably leave the outside world guessing about the intentions of the terrorist organisation, which last month called off its 17-month ceasefire.

After four bombing incidents in London the IRA has launched no follow- up attacks either in Britain or Northern Ireland.

The statement reasserted the organisation's right to take up arms, but also mentioned its hope for a "meaningful negotiation process".

It also claimed that the IRA had a mandate for violence, "deriving from Britain's denial of the fundamental right of the Irish people to national self-determination and sovereignty".

The statement went on: "The IRA, of course, remains ready to help in developing the conditions which will allow for a meaningful negotiations process, free from preconditions of any kind.

"The current position of the British, however, prevents all those in Ireland with a democratic mandate from sitting around the negotiating table. There remains only one place for all the representatives of the Irish people to go - and that is to the negotiating table."

The statement gave no clear clue about the organisation's long-term intentions, though it noticeably steered away from the belligerent tone of recent IRA statements.

Several weeks ago an IRA leader declared: "We sued for peace, the British wanted war. If that's what they want we will give them another 25 years of war."

Although yesterday's less aggressive tone could be construed as a hopeful sign, republican sources are openly gloomy about the prospects of an early reinstatement of the ceasefire.

All-party talks are due to open in Belfast on 10 June, but the ceasefire would have to be preceded by cast-iron assurances that the discussions would not stall as soon as they started on the issue of arms decommissioning, and would lead to genuine negotiations.

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