Leading Article: What Sinn Fein must tell us

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The Independent Online
GUARDSMAN Daniel Blinco did not live to discover whether the IRA will lay down its arms following the Anglo-Irish declaration. The 22-year-old soldier from Lancashire was shot dead by the IRA as it was making up its mind. Belfast was firebombed on New Year's Day while the head-scratching continued. Further deaths will surely accompany this prevarication over peace.

Did this destruction aid the thought process? Will the IRA, if it accepts the declaration, be able to show that Guardsman Blinco's killing helped them in some way towards that decision? Will he be found to have died for some as yet unrevealed purpose? Hardly. For, whatever the IRA's eventual decision, that killing was a matter of routine. And so was Belfast's blitz. No one, after 25 years of killing, needed reminding of the IRA's capacities. These were pointless, inarticulate, destructive gestures by people who claim to be thinking about peace.

Amid this futile violence, it is hard to take Sinn Fein seriously. The political thinking of Martin McGuinness, the party's vice-president, seems not to have advanced as a result of last month's events. 'Brits out' was his unsophisticated message in an interview published yesterday. Although Sinn Fein later tried to play down the intransigence of Mr McGuinness, his views indicate how immoderate the party leadership remains.

As bombs explode and Mr McGuinness mouths unreconstructed IRA-speak, there are calls for 'clarifications' by the British government. These may be needed and should be offered. But people are entitled to ask: 'Could Sinn Fein please clarify its position?'

The party is lukewarm about the Anglo-Irish declaration. Yet that accord apparently differs only slightly from the unpublished statement agreed as a basis for peace by Gerry Adams and John Hume, the leader of the SDLP. Seamus Mallon, Mr Hume's deputy, says that the two documents bear great similarity. It beggars belief that the IRA is still killing soldiers as if peace was out of the question.

The Hume-Adams statement should be published so the public can see what Sinn Fein considers to be grounds for ending republican violence. The distance between the party's expectations and what is on offer could be measured more accurately. Then, at least, it would be possible to estimate how much further the Government is expected to bend in return for a permanent ceasefire.

Meanwhile, it is not much to expect the IRA to stop killing until its representatives have finished their deliberations. Even they must find it difficult to explain the need for yet another murder, yet another bombing. As long as they are discussing the Anglo-Irish declaration, such violence has no logic. If they are not serious about considering peace they should make their views known quickly. Then, at least, those with new year wishes could set their hopes aside and prepare for another period of attrition.