IRA talks still offered despite violence

DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that the offer to the IRA and Sinn Fein to enter talks with the Government would remain on the table despite renewed violence in Ulster.

The IRA ended its Christmas ceasefire yesterday with a mortar attack on an unoccupied police station in Fintona, Co Tyrone, 16 minutes after the midnight end of the 72-hour truce. Two people suffered minor injuries.

Last night, a gunman opened fire on a Territorial Army centre in Portadown, Co Armagh. Police said that the shots, fired from a passing car in Charles Street, hit a lookout post but no one was hurt.

Earlier, Mr Hurd reinforced the warning by Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, of a security crackdown on the IRA if it rejected the offer of peace in the Downing Street declaration.

But he emphasised that a return to violence would not close the door to the IRA and Sinn Fein taking up the terms for peace in the declaration. 'There will be a solid procedure that will remain on the table,' he said on BBC radio.

His remarks - which jarred with the Prime Minister's warning before Christmas that the door would not remain open for long - were broadcast after the IRA attack.

There was widespread condemnation of the blast, which was seen as a clear signal that the terrorists intend to continue their campaign of violence while deciding whether to accept the declaration.

Surrounding homes were damaged by the mortar, fired from a Nissan Patrol vehicle. John Taylor, the Ulster Unionist MP for Strangford, said: 'Sinn Fein and the IRA are supposed to be considering the joint declaration by the two prime ministers. There should have been no resumption of violence until they reached a definitive decision about their response.'

The RUC put shopkeepers on full alert across Northern Ireland amid fears of an IRA firebomb blitz.

Mr Hurd held out hope that the declaration would bring peace eventually. It had 'put pressure on the men of violence of a kind they haven't known for some time . . . I suppose the IRA have continued all these years because enough of them believed that the British government and British people would run out of determination on this . . .

'They can't any longer exploit divisions between the British and Irish governments or stir up trouble in the United States . . . The line against them, the ring round them has become much more solid. I hope that will lead more of them to say, 'What's it about? Why are we putting ourselves at risk, why are so many of our relatives behind bars, why are we exposing ourselves to sectarian retaliation from the loyalist paramilitaries, whereas if we permanently cease the violence windows open'. That is the process of thought we hope is going on.'

Peter Temple-Morris, a Tory MP and co-chairman of the Anglo-Irish Parliamentary body, said elements from Sinn Fein and the IRA wanted to come in from the cold but their delay in agreeing to the terms was caused by a split in their ranks.

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