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IRA Ceasefire: Pause in killing dashes peace hopes: Brief respite fuels doubts over motives of terrorists as Adams proclaims 'potential'

THE ANNOUNCEMENT of a three-day stoppage has dashed hopes of a longer cessation of violence in Northern Ireland. Yesterday a senior nationalist source said privately: 'I think it's the minimum that can be discerned by the naked eye. Anything else and you'd need an electronic microscope.

'It's reminiscent of one of those bureaucratic compromises you get where you lose sight of all the objectives by trying to reconcile two different positions. If they started with the objectives of putting pressure on London without unsettling their own soldiers, I don't think its enough to put real pressure on the British, and they've still used the C-word - ceasefire.'

It also seems highly unlikely that it will produce a major concession from the Government in terms of a response to the demand for clarification of the Downing Street declaration. A prime minister with Mr Major's problems is not about to perform another public U-turn, particularly when it is almost inevitable that the ceasefire will be followed by more violence, particularly in England.

For these reasons, direct talks with Sinn Fein, as demanded by its president Gerry Adams, look a political impossibility. John Hume, SDLP leader and the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Dr Cahal Daly have called for clarification of the declaration, but the Irish government has refrained from putting any such pressure on London.

The Dublin position is that it has communicated with Sinn Fein to provide whatever clarification has been asked for. But the signs are now that real disillusion is setting in among constitutional nationalists, and that something more than a 72-hour ceasefire will be needed to convince the doubters that it is worth taking many more political risks for Sinn Fein.

Over the past year, Unionist politicians, and loyalist paramilitaries have claimed that there exists a 'pan-nationalist front' which encompasses the IRA, Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Irish government and indeed the Irish Catholic church.

The allegation is that all these elements have forged a partnership aimed at doing down Unionists and pushing the British government towards a policy of weakening the union and sponsoring Irish unity. The various segments of nationalism all favour a united Ireland, but there the resemblance ends. The relationship between constitutional nationalists and those who support violence is generally one of profound mutual loathing.

The IRA and Sinn Fein have traditionally regarded the whole southern state as an illegitimate entity. They will not use the word 'Republic', because they believe a real Republic does not yet exist: instead they speak of the south, the 26 counties or, with a sneer, 'the Free State'. They regard the leaders of the IRA as the rightful government of Ireland.

They view the Irish tricolour as their flag, and object to the Irish government flying it. They regard constitutional nationalists as something close to collaborators.

Two Unionist MPs, Ken Maginnis and the Rev William McCrea, have majority-Catholic constituencies but owe their seats to the profound enmity that exists between Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Both these parties stand in every election, splitting the nationalist vote and allowing Unionists to take the seats. Until a few months ago, an Irish Taoiseach had not for decades formally communicated with Sinn Fein.

Given this bitter history, the present situation is unusual in that the violent republicans and the constitutional nationalists have engaged a real dialogue. Contact with the republicans was opened by Mr Hume, who was backed, after initial hesitation, by the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and Dr Daly.

This trio has invested much personal and political capital in the proposition that there is a serious peace party within Sinn Fein and the IRA. They have depended too on a belief that Gerry Adams is firstly genuine about seeking peace and secondly potentially in a position to deliver his movement.

The three have taken considerable risks, amid scepticism about Mr Adams's motives and capacity to deliver. Some senior elements of the SDLP, for example, are most unhappy with Mr Hume's persistence that peace may yet be in prospect.

The events of recent weeks have forced a reappraisal by the constitutional nationalists. Mr Hume and the Cardinal have been as upbeat as possible, but IRA violence and the severely limited duration of next week's ceasefire have called into question Mr Adams's influence within the republican movement.