Those yearning for a peaceful settlement should be cautious in their reading of this equivocation. Mr Adams may be gently preparing an over-optimistic public for the grim new year announcement of a decision that may already have been taken. The republican movement may reckon that the declaration concedes far too little, that further negotiation is likely to be fruitless and that the IRA campaign must go on. To tell the public such news too quickly would be a public relations disaster for Sinn Fein.
Alternatively, Mr Adams's procrastination may be a guise for his having already accepted what is on offer. Wary of being seen by his supporters as over hasty or selling out, Mr Adams may be stalling before choosing a dignified moment to agree a cessation of violence. To tell republican prisoners suddenly that arms will be laid down without an agreed amnesty would be an internal IRA disaster.
If either explanation correctly describes Mr Adams's frame of mind, the British and Irish governments can sit back until Sinn Fein delivers its formal response. The declaration is proving to be a robust document that reflects public opinion in Britain and the Republic and has split rather than alienated Unionist and nationalist opinion in Northern Ireland. There is little pressure on the two governments from their electorates to amend the document.
But the most likely explanation is that Mr Adams feels he can neither take it nor leave it. A permanent cessation of violence seems possible but not on the basis of what has been said to date. The two governments are therefore faced with the dilemma of trying to enhance the chances of an honourable settlement and keep up the pressure on the IRA. They cannot simply walk away and say they have done their best. That would leave them open to accusations that it was they, not the IRA, that killed off the peace process.
The best strategy lies in continuing the communications that both governments have pursued with the IRA. There is no reason why there should not be further clarifications of the declaration, as long as the principles of last week's accord are not compromised. The governments should not be drawn into full talks with Sinn Fein. London and Dublin must keep up the political pressure on the IRA and make sure that they, rather than the republicans, keep the hard-won political initiative in Northern Ireland.Reuse content