Letter: IRA plan to trump the Orange card

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The Independent Online
Sir: I welcome the view expressed in your leading article today "The political challenge of another Irish outrage" (18 June) that efforts should be made in due course to persevere with the "conversation over Northern Ireland's future". Peaceful negotiation is the only sure way forward.

Before we reach that point however there are clearly obstacles to be overcome - not least that posed by the recent IRA killings. These have provoked widespread bewilderment as well as outrage. Without seeking to justify them I think however that a cruel logic consistent with Northern Ireland's brutal political traditions can be detected.

The killings were a deliberate provocation designed to bring about a yet more confrontational rerun of Drumcree last year. The IRA, in my view, want to see how this government will react to a concerted show of Unionist force. Will it cave in or will it uphold the rule of law?

I believe the IRA perceive Northern Ireland to be built ultimately on the threat of generalised Unionist violence, a threat repeated at crucial times in its history - 1913, 1922, 1974, 1996. This is what is meant by the Orange card.

The IRA want to know whether something has now been put together that can trump that card. They must reason that this is the essential question and that until it has been put and answered clearly no meaningful progress can be made. That is why they are willing to sacrifice Sinn Fein's position at the negotiating table, at least for now. They will have anticipated the breaking-off of contact between Sinn Fein and the British government and accepted it as a price worth paying.

This government has not really put a foot wrong over Northern Ireland. They succeeded in putting the ball in the court of the IRA. The IRA have now taken a decision to return it by setting the government a test.

Abject though the circumstances are, the clarity with which these "messages" can be discerned is nevertheless to be welcomed. It is a very hard game that the IRA are playing. But that is the nature of politics in the province, or at least it has been.

The IRA calculate that they can start the famous peace-train any time they like and that the British government will not be in a position to react to the indignity of being put through hoops by permanently excluding them.

It is a strategy of mayhem, but it is a strategy.

NICK MARTIN-CLARK

London WC1

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