Leading Article: No short cuts to peace in Ireland

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The Independent Online
MORTAR bombs at Heathrow airport provoke a spectrum of reactions. At one extreme are those who argue that Britain should now pull out of Northern Ireland and leave the mad Irish to fight each other, if that is what they want. At the other extreme are those who demand only an armed response, including internment and tighter security measures in Britain and Northern Ireland.

Near that end of the spectrum are the people who have always claimed that the Anglo-Irish declaration of last December was based on a false reading of the IRA, which, they say, prepared a trap into which the governments of Britain and Ireland then fell.

The truth, as is its boring habit, lies between the two extremes. For the British to abandon Northern Ireland - tempting though the idea is - would be to betray not only the people of Northern Ireland but the principles of democracy and the rule of law that uphold our society. Sinn Fein has little voting support in any part of Ireland. Its terrorist supporters in the IRA are not 'freedom fighters' representing the spearhead of a national resistance movement. If they had any real concern for the interests of the Irish people, they would immediately put down their arms and negotiate, or simply go home. They are a small band of killers who have arrogated to themselves a role to which they are not entitled.

It is, therefore, important that they should not win or be led to exaggerate their importance. Yet they do represent the irrational streak in Irish nationalism which is a factor in the dispute over Northern Ireland. This justifies trying to talk to them. Most of the evidence suggests that they are split, and that some of them now want to shift from guns to politics. If this is true, to grant concessions to those who still cling to violence would weaken those who want peace. If there are concessions to be made - although it is difficult to see precisely what these might be - this is the worst moment to make them.

The British and Irish governments should therefore adopt a two-track response. They should continue to assert that the terms of the Anglo-Irish declaration stand and that the door remains open to negotiation on those terms, even though each act of violence renders talking more difficult and diminishes the credibility of Gerry Adams, which at some point will vanish altogether if violence continues.

At the same time, inevitably, security must be tightened. There will have to be more surveillance of our comings and goings, more spot checks, more restricted areas, and tighter protection for obvious targets such as airports. All this will be costly in terms of money, time and civil liberties. But, as in war, this is the price that has to be paid for the preservation of democratic principles. There are no short cuts that would not exact a higher price.