Meanwhile, an unusually intense wave of grief, revulsion and condemnation was evident in Northern Ireland yesterday in the wake of the killings.
The angry condemnation was accompanied by continuing bewilderment about how the IRA believed it was advancing its cause by carrying out the killings at a time when the Government and Sinn Fein appeared to be converging on the issue of republican entry into talks. The overall atmosphere remained grim in anticipation of further violence in the wake of the murders.
With the security forces and the Catholic population braced for possible retaliatory acts of violence from loyalist paramilitaries, a flurry of activity on the parades front brought no sign of any last-minute breakthrough in advance of the impending marching season.
On the political talks front, meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist party has failed to agree with the Government a mutually acceptable approach on the question of arms decommissioning. Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland,wants this issue dealt with within the next few weeks so that the multi-party talks can move on to substantive negotiations.
These developments, taken with the dashing of the hopes for an an early IRA ceasefire and above all the murders of the policemen, have driven up tensions which were already high.
Lurgan, where the two constables were killed, came to a standstill for a minute's silence at noon. At the murder scene Catholics and Protestants united in a vigil of remembrance while hundreds queued outside the local RUC station to sign a book of condolence.
Killings in Northern Ireland are traditionally followed by condemnation from political and church figures, but the strength of this emotional reaction seems to indicate that the two deaths have touched deeper emotions than usual.
Feeling was heightened by the fact that the two constables, John Graham, 34, and David Johnston, 30, had five young children between them.
Inspector Paul Hannigan choked back tears as he spoke of the two men. "Both these guys were so jolly and such a pleasure to know. They loved being out on the beat, they knew everyone and loved to stop and chat and people loved to chat to them," he said.
Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable, said: "These two young families are absolutely ripped apart. They are devastated and what makes it worse is that it was so needless."
A defensive Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president, insisted that his goal remained a lasting peace and commended the IRA's 1994-96 cessation as good "by any international standards". He declared: "It wasn't condemnations, it wasn't the vitriol of denunciations which brought that about."Reuse content