Leading Article: Peace fanned by winds of realism

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The Independent Online
The Irish participants in the peace process might usefully ponder the reaction yesterday to the IRA's "unequivocal cessation of violence". There was no dancing in the streets or singing in the saloons. On the contrary, the mood was sceptical, sombre even. The IRA's words sound reassuring, but the gunmen keep their weapons. All we have is a truce. This is why the Ulster Unionists are disenchanted by the prospect of the talks due to begin this week, and it is hard not to have fleeting sympathy. Allowing Sinn Fein to sit at the table with the Unionists before having begun to decommission the IRA's substantial stockpile of arms breaches the agreement the Unionist parties had with John Major's government. But if Tony Blair had honoured his predecessor's pledge, there would be no talks. The Prime Minister and Mo Mowlem, his secretary of state, have behaved with Machiavellian dexterity and ruthlessness in the past two months. After the cruel murder of two Armagh policemen by the IRA's squalid murderers, the Prime Minister said there would be no further contact between senior civil servants and the IRA. Gerry Adams's statement on Friday makes it clear this pledge was ignored. Without surrendering a conviction that open government is the best government, we think this is a case in which the means justify the end.

After the elation of the original ceasefire, and the disillusionment caused by its cessation last year, any talks that take place now will benefit from an atmosphere of steely realism. This is, perhaps, one reason why the Unionists are so apprehensive. The participants from both sides - Nationalist and Unionist - must surely appreciate that there is no peace plan that can accommodate each of their principal objectives. For Sinn Fein, there will be no united Ireland. For the Unionists, they must realise that their political hegemony was a ruinous obstruction to good government. There are indications that each side has begun to recognise this. Mr Adams said on Friday that Sinn Fein would be guided (our italics) by the aim of a united Ireland, and last weekend Orange lodges finally conceded that their marches through Catholic streets cause alarm and give offence. If these straws in the wind are truly a prelude to talks, then jaw jaw might indeed take over from war war, and there will be some hope for these islands this winter.