Peace talks under strain

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The Independent Online
BY DAVID McKITTRICK Ireland correspondent The Irish peace process came under a double strain yesterday as talks between republicans and the Government ran into difficulties on the arms issue, and as no clear explanation emerged of a weekend bombing incident in Fermanagh.

The IRA denied that any of its units were involved in the incident in which a blast incendiary device was left at a furniture store in Enniskillen, while Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein dismissed it as something "of no great significance".The bomb, which did not explode, was the first planted since the IRA ceasefire in August.

The fact that Semtex was involved has raised important questions, since only the IRA has possessed this explosive in the past. But last night, security sources said the bomb was not of standard IRA manufacture and led them to believe that the organisation was not implicated. How IRA material found its way into the hands of someone intent on breaking the ceasefire remains unanswered.

The issue was raised at Stormont in Belfast yesterday when a Sinn Fein delegation led by Mr McGuinness met senior civil servants. Sinn Fein denied all knowledge of the incident.

A sharp difference emerged when the republicans advocated moving the talks on from exploratory contacts to dialogue involving all parties. The British said this stage could not be reached until there was satisfactory resolution of the issue of paramilitary weapons.

Sinn Fein said in its opening statement: "The peace process. . . .needs to confront the reality that there are a large number of armed groups . . . involved in this conflict. The existence of all of these groups needs to be resolved by an effective demilitarisation process.

The Irish government is understood to be reconsidering the decision to place a block on the pre-Christmas early release of IRA prisoners. It was understood a decision would depend on whether the IRA denial of involvement in the planting of the bomb was accepted.

John Major and John Burton, the new Taoiseach, are to meet in London today.