Leading Article: Sensitivity across the Irish Sea

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AS A MESSAGE of solidarity, Albert Reynolds's statement that it is not the British government but the Irish people against whom the IRA now struggles cannot be faulted. But with the IRA still rejecting the olive branch of the joint declaration, only hard work by both governments can keep the Anglo-Irish relationship moving forward.

British complaints about cross- border co-operation on intelligence gathering may in part be an attempt to pass the buck for the Heathrow mortar attacks. But Dublin could still do more to help John Major's government to maintain the support of the backbenchers and Ulster Unionists on which it depends. Irish sensitivity to British helicopters pursuing suspected terrorists across the border between Ulster and the Republic is understandable; but if the two countries are to work together against the IRA, hot pursuit in either direction cannot stop at the border.

Equally, it is easy to see why Dublin is reluctant to allow what should be a policing function to become militarised. But that reluctance cannot justify requiring British officers to talk to their Irish counterparts through not one but two sets of intermediaries.

The need for sensitivity lies on this side of the Irish Sea when it comes to extradition. Ireland's laws protect from extradition those accused of political crimes abroad, and those who cannot be assured a fair trial. Anthony Gorman, who was to stand trial for terrorist offences in London, slipped this week through a loophole that allows the possession, but not use, of weapons or explosives, and the use of non-automatic weapons, to be defined as political. Within weeks Dublin is likely to have removed this legal anomaly.

It was the British government, and the British press, that allowed Mr Gorman's lawyers to succeed. The extensive British media coverage of his case, and that of Joseph Magee a few weeks earlier, took his guilt so much for granted that it would have been difficult for him to receive a fair trial in England. Irish judges should be forgiven for their sensitivity to this issue.

Accommodating London's concerns on security issues will do little in practice to catch more IRA men, and may expose Mr Reynolds and his colleagues to political risks. But unlike Mr Major, the Irish premier has the advantage of an electorate and a party that overwhelmingly support the declaration. It is thus more important than ever that the two governments should be seen to stand together. That requires a gesture from Dublin to London.