RUC chief expects ceasefires to hold

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Sir Hugh Annesley, Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has given an upbeat assessment of the prospects for continuing peace in Northern Ireland, expressing optimism that the paramilitary ceasefires will hold.

But he warned that the IRA still retained the capacity to go back to violence, and that some of its members favoured a return to its campaign of terror.

Sir Hugh's assessment, given in an interview in Police magazine, is in line with his previous generally optimistic statements that the cessation of violence would continue. It is also in line with the widely-held view that, with the first anniversary of the IRA ceasefire approaching at the end of August, each passing month makes it more difficult for the organisation to contemplate a return to shooting and bombing.

While Sinn Fein leaders such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have warned in recent months about a crisis in the peace process, there have been no real indications that the republicans were approaching the point of abandoning it and staging a return to war.

At the same time, Sir Hugh made the point that not all in the IRA ranks thought along the same lines as their leaders. He said: "There is little doubt that the leadership of the IRA wants the peace to hold, but there are significant pockets of the volunteers on the ground who would like to go back to the 'war effort'.

"They are still training. They are still quartermastering arms and that, in part, is to keep the volunteers happy - give them something to do. A more sinister side of it must be that, if there was an impasse on the way forward, there is at least a potential to go back to it. But in my view, at this stage, it is not likely. On balance, I think I remain optimistic that the peace process will hold."