Irish fury at Major's line on ceasefire

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THE IRISH government is intensely irritated by what it regards as the British Government's insensitive handling of the IRA's cessation of violence, according to reliable sources.

A damaging rift could open between the two governments if London does not move speedily to acknowledge what everyone in Dublin believes - that the IRA campaign is over for good.

Although the two governments have made strenous efforts to maintain a united front in recent years, especially in the developing peace process, Dublin's exasperation with London's recent performance is now clear. The Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, was believed to have expressed this during a two-hour meeting last night with the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, at Hillsborough Castle, outside Belfast.

The main point of difference is whether the IRA ceasefire does or does not amount to a permanent abandonment of violence.

The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and the leaders of other main parties in the Irish Republic, have declared themselves satisifed that the IRA campaign has ended, but Mr Major said, as recently as Sunday, that he wanted 'a little more' from the republicans.

Mr Reynolds, who is a teetotaler, told Irish radio listeners yesterday that he had tasted champagne for the first time in his life when the IRA announcement was made. He has indicated that he will shortly hold a historic meeting with the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, to welcome him formally into the political fold. This could happen as early as this Thursday or Friday. Unless London has moved by then, the divergence of opinion between the two governments will become starkly clear.

The Dublin view is that Mr Major's stand has been motivated at least partly by his desire to reassure Unionist opinion. The Irish side is insistent that it sees the need for this, but argues that it could be better achieved by reassurances to Unionist opinion that there will be no sell-out or infringement of principles. London's attitude is regarded as incomprehensible in that each passing day brings confirmation, if it were needed, that the IRA campaign is over.

Sir Patrick Mayhew said last week that British requirements would be satisfied if Mr Adams were to declare the Irish government assessment of the cessation was the correct one. Mr Adams duly did this in a newspaper article, but London did not respond. The Irish point is that much could yet go wrong with such a delicate and unprecedented process, and the British Government appears preoccupied with what are irrelevant issues.

Mr Major's indication that the exclusion order which keeps Mr Adams out of Britain will stay in place for a lengthy period is considered unhelpful. And the Army's swift re-blocking of several border roads opened by locals and republican activists on Sunday is seen as similarly unhelpful. The roads in question have been blocked and re-opened up to 40 times in the past 25 years and have sometimes been left open for weeks at a time.

Dublin considers this shows that even while the IRA campaign was under way, the roads had no security significance.

The Irish government believes that a frosty London reception for the cessation will encourage hawks within republicanism who were against the ceasefire, and will strengthen their arguments that the British Government will not make concessions to a non-violent republican movement.

For almost a year leading up to the cessation the two governments behaved differently towards the republicans: London refused to communicate with them while Dublin provided ample clarification of its position. At that stage the two governments did not make anything of their different approaches, but the present divergence is proving impossible to deny.

Dublin's belief is that there is a golden opportunity for peace, and that all efforts should be concentrated on its essentials.

The waiting game, page 2

Andrew Marr, page 13

Guns into ploughshares, page 16

(Photograph omitted)