Soldier killed as Mayhew prepares answers: IRA violence continues despite move to break impasse. David McKittrick reports

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The Independent Online
Against a backdrop of continuing IRA violence, the Government was yesterday preparing its response to a list of questions posed by Sinn Fein and passed to London by the Dublin government.

The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, who discussed the Irish peace process with President Bill Clinton while visiting the United States at the weekend, said he hoped the British government would give the most positive response it could to the questions, which he described as 'by and large answerable'.

But the violence continued, with an IRA bomb killing a soldier at a border checkpoint near Keady, Co Armagh. He was named as L/Cpl David Wilson, 27, a single man from Greenock, Scotland.

In a separate development, loyalist gunmen fired shots near a Sinn Fein march in Belfast yesterday. No one was injured.

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, indicated at the weekend the thrust of the questions that he wants the Government to answer. Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has said the Government will publish the questions within a matter of days together with its comments.

Mr Reynolds said he hoped this arrangement would end the impasse over clarification of the Downing Street declaration. But, in common with the British government, he was insistent that there should be no negotiations with Sinn Fein in advance of an IRA cessation of violence.

Mr Adams detailed some of Sinn Fein's questions in a statement. He raised the question of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, in which the British Parliament formally stated its jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. He also asked about Irish self-determination and 'the British government's political interests and long-term intentions towards Ireland'. He sought information on what structures and process the Government envisaged would be developed from the declaration.

In deciding how to respond to the questions posed by Sinn Fein, the Government will be heavily influenced by its analysis of the state of play within the republican movement. One strand of government opinion tends to believe that a debate is going on between hawks and doves, and may therefore be inclined to argue that the responses should contain some helping hands for the 'doves'.

Another strand believes that the chances of an IRA cessation of violence have faded in the months since the declaration was unveiled last December. If this view prevails then the answers could amount to little more than the reiteration of points from the declaration and ministerial speeches.

The Irish government has already given Sinn Fein lengthy written clarifications of its interpretation of the agreement. If London's responses contain significant differences with these, the republicans may have some scope to point out differences between the governments. But if both governments co- ordinate their responses, and supply what appears to most observers to be a reasonable explanation, then pressure on Sinn Fein can be expected to increase significantly.

At that point the republicans would have to spell out whether the deal on offer from London and Dublin was enough to bring about an IRA cessation, something which few observers consider imminent.

An alternative to outright rejection would be for the republicans to say that differences existed between their position and the British government, and to call for dialogue to attempt to bridge the gap. Either way, the republican position should become more clearly defined than it is at the moment.

A fourth soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment died yesterday from injuries suffered in a barracks fire in Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, a fortnight ago. He was named as Private Adrian Rodgers, 26, of Ballymena, Co Antrim.

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