Sinn Fein seen as an example

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The Independent Online
Although many differences exist between Eta and the IRA, there are also striking similarities between the stages now reached in the violent separatist campaigns waged by Basques and by Irish republicans.

The close links which exist between Sinn Fein and some Basque organisations mean that Eta will be well informed about the Irish peace process. This, over a period of years, has led to the present IRA ceasefire and the consequent inclusion of Sinn Fein in multi-party talks on Northern Ireland's future.

The fact that both conflicts have dragged on for up to three decades is important, in that sheer longevity was a factor in bringing republicans to re-think their approach. When violence has gone on so long, with no ultimate victory in sight, those involved tend to become more thoughtful, often more politicised, and sometimes readier to examine alternatives to bombs.

The suggestion is now that Eta violence might in time take second place to the activity of a developing political wing. Although many continue to regard the IRA with the utmost suspicion, it is indisputable that its political wing, Sinn Fein, has grown more and more important within the movement.

The hope of both the British and Irish governments is not that Sinn Fein will at any point defeat the IRA. Rather, the theory is that, as Sinn Fein becomes ever more deeply immersed in politics, a return to IRA bombing will come to be seen as unthinkable.

An important part of this theory is that a political avenue should be opened so that the more political elements can make progress, and gradually convince the militarists that politics can achieve more than terrorism.

In Ireland, the issue of prisoners has also proved important, republicans and reformers arguing that early releases or transfers closer to home can help create goodwill.