Both Mr Reynolds and Dick Spring, the foreign minister, have been talking this week about the possibility of an IRA ceasefire. It is clear that this idea is being dangled before them by the IRA itself, through the established intermediaries, Mr Adams and John Hume, the SDLP leader. It is also clear that Mr Reynolds and Mr Spring are nibbling at what is being dangled. They will try to get John Major to nibble at it, too. If he does, the next question is: what will the British pay the IRA, in terms of 'clarification' of the Downing Street statement, in order to get a ceasefire?
Mr Reynolds is likely soon to offer Mr Major a formula which could lead to a ceasefire. This is an extension of the tactics which led to the Downing Street declaration. Only the price expected from the IRA is diminishing. Last year it was to be 'a permanent cessation of violence'. This time, the most that may be on offer is a ceasefire. The IRA ceasefire, according to Mr Spring, could be a foundation for that 'permanent cessation'. Some foundation] We have seen IRA ceasefires before. We have also seen how they end, in spectacular resumptions of violence.
One of the most significant, and most sinister developments of recent days has been Mr Adams's statement that Sinn Fein does not need to negotiate directly with the British - the Dublin government can look after those negotiations. The implications of this statement are breathtaking. Sinn Fein has never before shown such confidence - or any confidence at all - in any Dublin government. The relations between the present coalition government in Dublin and Sinn Fein-IRA are something altogether new in Irish politics. Under all previous governments (with one very brief exception in 1970) Sinn Fein and the Irish state were in an adversarial relationship. Now they are partners in a union blessed by Mr Hume.
This might, perhaps, be regarded as a happy outcome, if either the IRA had ended its 'war' against Britain, or Sinn Fein had broken off its relationship with the IRA. But neither has happened. Sinn Fein continues to be the political arm of an IRA that still regards itself at war with Britain. So the Reynolds government, Britain's partner in the Anglo- Irish agreement and the Downing Street declaration, is also in indirect partnership, through Mr Hume and Mr Adams, with the people responsible for the bombs at Heathrow.
The partnership between the present Dublin government and Sinn Fein-IRA is equivocal, deniable and camouflaged as a peace process. But the reality of the partnership is attested by Sinn Fein's acceptance of the role of the Dublin government in negotiations with Britain. Sinn Fein knows that the Dublin government will take up no negotiating position not recommended by Mr Hume, after consultation with Sinn Fein. And the Army Council of the Provisional IRA knows that Sinn Fein will approve nothing that the IRA does not approve.
The Anglo-Irish agreement was supposed, when it was concluded nearly nine years ago, to be about 'to marginalise the men of violence'. The Anglo- Irish intergovernmental conference, set up under that agreement, now finds its agenda being dictated, through Mr Hume, Mr Adams, Mr Reynolds and Mr Spring, by the very people the agreement was supposed to have marginalised.
Since the Heathrow bombings and the consequent anger among Conservative backbenchers, Mr Major has shown the first signs of breathlessness at the peculiar condition of his partnership with Dublin. He is known to have remonstrated with Mr Reynolds, following complaints from the Royal Ulster Constabluary, at recent examples of lack of co-operation from the Gardai across the border. And this tendency is to be expected, in the present equivocal climate of the Republic's politics.
In general, co-operation between the RUC and the Gardai has been remarkably good under each successive government since the foundation of the state, with only one partial exception in the early Seventies. That exception was the result of the encouragement given in 1970 by certain powerful members of Jack Lynch's Fianna Fail government, to the foundation of the Provisional IRA.
The message then reaching the Gardai in border areas, concerning the IRA, was not to interfere with them in any operations being prepared in the republic against targets in Northern Ireland. Even after the fall of those Irish ministers, in the arms trial crisis of 1970, it took some time for the deleterious effects of that message to wear off. They did wear off, however, especially after the change of government in 1973, and from then on, in spite of one or two personality clashes, co-operation between the RUC and Gardai got back to its old footing, a good working relationship.
It is not to be expected that that relationship should continue to flourish in the present political climate in Dublin. This is a Hume-Adams climate, and Mr Adams has no use for Gardai-RUC co-operation against the IRA; or indeed for anything that could inconvenience the IRA in any way. In these conditions the message that has to reach the Gardai from on high is that nothing should be done that could 'endanger the peace process'. Individual Gardai, left to interpret that injunction on the ground, may well feel, as many of them did in the early Seventies, that the safest course, career-wise as well as physically, is to leave the IRA alone.
It is time for Mr Major to talk seriously with Mr Reynolds, in private. Mr Major should explain that he is no longer prepared to operate the Anglo-Irish agreement in the spirit of Hume-Adams, which means wooing the IRA. Faced with a choice between the survival of the Anglo-Irish agreement and adherence to Hume- Adams, I believe Mr Reynolds would choose the Anglo-Irish agreement. But he will first have to be convinced that he must choose. Mr Major must convince him, if the rot that is now eating Anglo-Irish relations is to be stopped.Reuse content