The remarks have, however, been criticised by Unionists. Speaking in New York, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said: 'That's not going to require any surrender, the ending of that armed conflict. It's not going to require any surrender.'
Government sources denied that any change of policy was on the cards, but the remarks generated a flurry of reaction. Republicans have repeatedly said that their interest in a peace process does not arise from any military or psychological weakness. Sir Patrick's remarks will be interpreted by many as a direct response on this point.
The Sinn Fein chairman, Tom Hartley, said: 'If Mr Mayhew has been reported correctly, then his comments appear to be a recognition of the reality that there will be no unilateral surrenders by any side. This is to be welcomed.' He called on the Government to accept Sinn Fein's electoral mandate.
There appears to have been little movement on any side since last week's three-day IRA ceasefire, which because of its brevity was widely dismissed as inadequate. IRA violence has continued, with a soldier hurt by a bomb blast in north Belfast late on Tuesday night. In Newry, terrorists fired a mortar bomb at an RUC station yesterday. It failed to explode. Meanwhile, republicans in south Armagh said they regarded a large-scale military operation to rebuild the army base in Crossmaglen as a provocation, and would kill soldiers guarding the work.
Nevertheless, Sinn Fein are now likely to explore just what Sir Patrick meant by his remarks.
Unionists remain sceptical about the whole process. The Ulster Unionist MP David Trimble said: 'Sir Patrick is footering around trying to lure the Provos into an abandonment of their campaign. I don't think this is going to take in the IRA, but what it will do is undermine yet further the Government's credibility and the level of confidence in its integrity in Northern Ireland.'
Thomas Sutcliffe, page 18Reuse content