British approach worries Dublin: Fears that heavy-handed tactics could alienate republicans from peace process

THE IRISH government is concerned that heavy-handed British interventions could alienate republican opinion, when delicate persuasion could still draw Sinn Fein and the IRA into the peace process.

Sources in Dublin expressed fears that recent statements from the Prime Minister and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, warning of limited British patience over the Downing Street declaration, could be counter-productive. 'The British could be more positive,' one said.

Sinn Fein and the IRA are seeking clarification only on the political implications of the Downing Street declaration, and are not seeking textual changes in the document itself, Dublin has been advised.

The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, is concerned that John Major is not making enough effort to sell the document to nationalists and republicans, relying too much on threats.

This partly underlay Mr Reynolds' remarks this week about the importance of 'demilitarising' the Northern Ireland situation.

This was a calculated attempt to ease concerns about Britain's future role voiced by the senior Sinn Fein figure Martin McGuinness last weekend.

While deploring the violence of the Provisionals, Dublin believes that if the peace effort is to bear fruit, a degree of respect must be shown by both governments to Sinn Fein's process of deliberation, given its entrenched political perspective.

The lack of direct information since the lines of communication between the republican movement and London became public last November has exacerbated the Provisionals' unease about British intentions.

Dublin has opened the door to a political role for Sinn Fein in a forum for peace and reconciliation with other Irish parties after an IRA ceasefire. But republicans want to know more about what political process is envisaged by Britain.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, is this week writing to Mr Major mapping out areas where his party wants clarification.