Leading Article: Irish overtures to Sinn Fein

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The Independent Online
THE Irish government is convinced that Gerry Adams wants to make peace. It believes the Sinn Fein president supports an end to republican violence, but he has yet to persuade enough of the IRA's leadership to this view. Mr Adams, the logic implies, may need help winning the argument.

That, think the Irish, means giving republicans a taste of the prestige they might enjoy if they forsook violence for ever. Mr Adams's trip to the United States - to which Dublin raised no objection - was a first bite. Yesterday, Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, offered another. He indicated that a ceasefire - short of a permanent cessation of hostilities - would bring Sinn Fein a less icy reception, though not negotiations, in Dublin.

A year after the Warrington outrage, days after the Heathrow mortars and Saturday's shooting down of an Army helicopter, it is difficult to agree with or like the Irish analysis. Mr Adams and his organisation seem far from recognising the futility of violence. Sinn Fein's response to the Downing Street Declaration appears to be opportunistic rather than constructive. The IRA campaign of killing speaks louder than its utterances.

Yet the Dublin government's strategy warrants examination. In its early days, the Fianna Fail party, at present senior partner in the Irish government, was characterised as only 'slightly constitutional'. Its leader, Albert Reynolds, the Irish premier, seems to take the view that rehabilitating the IRA into mainstream politics may also be gradual. The Provisionals are nervous about ceasefires, worried that they may lead to political oblivion. They may, as Mr Spring argues, need to be inched from violence.

A cautious Irish welcoming of Sinn Fein into the kitchen parlour might offer progress in a peace process that is becoming bogged down. As June's European elections approach, the Unionists are out-competing each other in their rejection of the Downing Street Declaration. Meanwhile, John Major enjoys little political leeway given his slender Commons majority and reliance on the nine Ulster Unionist Party votes. Dublin has most room for manoeuvre to keep the initiative alive.

But the Reynolds government has adopted a risky policy that could be mistaken for appeasement. Unionists may fear that London will sell them out to the IRA, but they are sure of Dublin's duplicity. A perceived abandonment of the Anglo-Irish 'no negotiations without peace' stance would alienate Ulster's Protestants further.

The Irish government, while responding boldly and positively to temporary ceasefires, must stick to this principal on talks. It must also match its overtures to Sinn Fein with gestures to the Unionists: more security co-operation and a clear commitment to crack down on terrorism.

The IRA and Sinn Fein should be made to recognise that Dublin's magnanimity springs from strength, not weakness.