IRA Ceasefire: Reynolds says statement means 'no going back': The view from Dublin

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IRISH government and opposition leaders yesterday united in welcoming the IRA ceasefire as permanent. The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, said he accepted the statement was 'made in good faith' and represented a permanent end to IRA activity.

He believed 'their strong tradition of discipline will positively contribute to this result'. The IRA statement meant there could be 'no going back,' he told the Dail.

Government sources said they believed the word 'permanent' was absent from the IRA statement simply because the IRA did not accept it had to use language imposed on it by someone else. The Taoiseach said he had spoken at length yesterday to John Major on the meaning of the statement. Mr Major, he said, had gone along with his view that it meant a permanent end to IRA violence.

He said it was 'quite likely' that there would soon be a meeting with President Clinton, Mr Major and himself. 'The three of us operate together in this. Phone calls are made on a regular basis,' he said. 'President Clinton also sees the Downing Street declaration as the building blocks for the new and agreed Ireland.'

John Bruton, leader of the largest Dail opposition party, Fine Gael, traditionally hard line on law and order, said he also believed the ceasefire was intended to be permanent and would be verified as such. Addressing Unionist concerns, he said: 'I would not be giving my support to the government if I believed there was a secret deal. I am convinced the Unionist community has absolutely nothing to fear.'

Irish ministers have sought to reassure Protestants that no private deal has been done, and the IRA announcement did not mean any dilution of the Downing Street declaration's commitment to majority consent in the North governing Northern Ireland's future status.

'There is no secret pact, no deal, no hidden terms . . . the government have put on the table exactly what they're prepared to do for Sinn Fein,' a Dublin government spokesman said.

Dublin's first formal response to the ceasefire is scheduled to be the setting up of a forum for peace and reconciliation, devised to give Sinn Fein an early role in constitutional politics while it is subjected to a three-month 'quarantine period' by London, testing its abandonment of terrorism.

Dail opposition parties say Mr Reynolds has yet to approach them on its foundation or functions since he raised the idea last December. Dail sources expect it to convene by the end of this month. But parties such as Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats have reservations about rushing to launch it if that alarmed the Unionists by raising the spectre of an embryonic nationalist united front.

Thereafter, a summit between Mr Reynolds and John Major is planned, unveiling the joint framework for renewed all-party talks involving Sinn Fein. This is expected between late this month and mid-October.

Civil servants from both sides are reportedly nearing agreement on the core compromise under which the legal claim in the Irish constitution over the territory of Northern Ireland could be amended to become simply an aspiration.

Dublin officials envisage any campaign to win Irish electoral backing for this would necessarily require Britain to define its relationship with the province within the terms already set down in the Declaration.

Irish ministers see containing Loyalist violence, in political and security terms, as the most crucial short-term imperative. Failure to protect nationalist areas from sectarian murders could put republicans under impossible pressures to defend their communities.

Mr Reynolds believes the IRA's handing-in of its remaining arsenal will not reach the agenda until sectarian murder is brought to an end.

Responding to the Sinn Fein demand for the release of republican prisoners will be handled over the longer term. Dublin sources are optimistic republicans will accept a government commitment to deal humanely with the issue via earlier parole and release dates.