Rejection by IRA would be an act of nihilism

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Ireland Correspondent

Yesterday's Anglo-Irish summit almost certainly makes a second cessation of violence by the IRA more rather than less likely, and thus helps keep the hope for peace alive.

The summit and the communique do not guarantee peace, but then Ireland has learnt the hard way that nothing ever does. Political republicans will take exception to a number of points in the communique, yet they will also see that the two governments have moved a perhaps surprising distance in their direction.

The republicans will dislike the fact that all-party negotiations are not to take place until June. They will dislike the fact at next week's talks they will only be allowed to meet officials rather than ministers. They will dislike the election which is to take place; and they will be as suspicious as ever of British and Unionist intentions.

Yet the two governments have also given Gerry Adams much ammunition, as it were, to use in his debates with the IRA army council. He regularly complained of the lack of a talks date, the British and Unionist penchant for introducing fresh pre-conditions, and of Britain's alleged bad faith and failure to engage in the peace process.

The communique meets the primary and long-standing republican demand for a firm date for all-party negotiations, and it twice says the election will lead "immediately and without further pre-conditions" to the convening of negotiations.

The issue of de-commissioning weapons, which once dominated the peace process, has now diminished to a requirement that it be discussed at an early stage.

Bad faith is more difficult to legislate against, but Britain has, together with Dublin, put down its proposals in black and white: retreating from them is not impossible but any acts of bad faith would be obvious to the world.

John Major now gives every appearance of being fully engaged. The action of starting the first round of talks on Monday next is exactly the kind of urgency which has been advocated by republicans since their August 1994 cessation.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister's tone has changed from the days when he referred to the republicans curtly and brusquely, from the days when he announced he was throwing down "the gauntlet of peace".

He is now concentrating on bringing about a new IRA ceasefire, and yesterday he did so by offering to the movement which earlier this month exploded a bomb in London's Dockland and sent two innocent men to early graves a reasoned and respectable package of proposals.

Because the package is plainly a reasonable one, it gained a cautious welcome from Mr Adams. There is of course no guarantee it will draw a similar welcome from the IRA commanders who ordered the London bombs.

Yet though militarists they are not mindless. They will know this represents a serious offer; they will also know that rejecting it out of hand would be an act of near-nihilism.