The country is collectively holding its breath to see what direction the IRA may take. Before Friday there were two ceasefires; there remains one. The loyalist paramilitaries who ceased hostilities in October 1994 must consider their position. The Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) stated last August that it would not initiate a return to war, that there would be "no first strike". The IRA has made a proactive strike: what now?
The loyalist organisations have demonstrated remarkable restraint so far in difficult circumstances. The CLMC is committed to a democratic resolution of the conflict; however, its members are compelled to defend their community from attack. The responsibility lies squarely at the feet of the IRA to avoid a return to war. Much will depend upon the actions of republicans in coming days and weeks, and loyalists will be keeping the evolving situation under constant review.
The IRA has excluded itself from the democratic process by its initiation of violence. The penalties for walking away from peace must be demonstrated. Sinn Fein has maintained its prominent position because it represents the IRA in this process, yet Gerry Adams has illustrated that he has been unable to retain control. Doors were opened to him because he brought the IRA into the peace process, but he has failed to deliver the goods. The IRA's despicable actions demand that those doors again be closed. After being placed upon the world stage, Adams should now be pushed off it.
President Clinton must demonstrate his rejection of the IRA's position by reversing the concessions he made for them. Sinn Fein's funds in the US must be frozen and the visas granted for Adams and others revoked.
The peace process must continue without the IRA, and all efforts must be made to achieve all-party negotiations. Sinn Fein cannot be accepted within that process if it is prepared to support a dual strategy. The days of the ballot box and the Armalite have gone.
We have to focus on how we can retrieve the situation and move forward. David Trimble holds firm that there should be elections, but there is no consensus upon what those elections should be to.
I oppose elections. The potential for further division which they would promise at this delicate juncture should be avoided at all costs. I would urge that we respect the immediacy of the need to regain control of the peace process.
The best way forward is for all other parties to enter a negotiation framework based upon the democratic principles proposed by the Mitchell Commission. To gain entry into those negotiations, republicans would be required to resume their ceasefire and accept the Mitchell principles. The IRA must decide once and for all whether it is prepared for war or for peace. It cannot be afforded a halfway house. That decision must be made soon.
The writer is leader of the Ulster Democratic Party.