The RUC chief's view is that the ceasefire has a 60-40 chance of lasting until next Easter, and if it does, the police calculate, its prospects beyond that date are much brighter.
Sir Hugh gave his assessment last Monday, in advance of the opening of the talks between Sinn Fein and British Government which the ceasefire has facilitated. He told a dozen selected journalists, in an unattributable briefing at RUC headquarters in Belfast, that he believed the IRA would review the situation around Easter, assessing what progress Sinn Fein had made in the political arena.
According to sources who were present, Sir Hugh was noticeably more relaxed on the issue of the IRA handing in its weaponry than the Government appeared to be last week. When Sinn Fein members met the Government team at Stormont on Friday, the delegationled by Martin McGuinness was told the retention of weaponry by the IRA would constitute a barrier to substantive negotiations.
By contrast, Sir Hugh told journalists that much IRA weaponry was home-made, implying that even if its equipment were handed over the organisation could at any future stage resume production of weapons such as mortars and rockets.
He confirmed reports that the IRA was continuing to size up targets and was carrying on with many of its traditional activities, apart from actually carrying out attacks.
On policing, he was concerned that no deals should be made behind closed doors, saying that there should instead be open debate on how Northern Ireland would be policed in future.
He left the impression that he believed the Government should not have placed such stress on pressing republicans to use the word "permanent" in relation to the IRA cessation of violence which was announced on 31 August, and indicated that the RUC had been pleasantly surprised that the cessation statement went as far as it did.
On the question of guns, his thinking was that what mattered most was not the possession of weaponry but the will to use it. Sir Hugh's view was that the important point was to keep the peace process going as long as possible, and to make it as much of a"fudge" as possible. He cautioned against ministers forcing the pace. His view was that the longer the ceasefire went on the less chance there was that the IRA campaign would resume.
Meanwhile, an American delegation led by Commerce Secretary Ron Brown is to attend a conference this week aimed at attracting new investment to Northern Ireland, and on Thursday Government officials are due to meet minor loyalist politicians linked with Protestant paramilitary groups.
Ulster heaven, page 3
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