Of course the return of IRA violence is a major setback to the peace process in Northern Ireland, but I believe there is still hope. The SDLP and the Dublin political parties trusted IRA-Sinn Fein that the ceasefire was permanent. They ridiculed the parties in Northern Ireland who asked the IRA to confirm a permanent ceasefire. Those who trusted the words of Gerry Adams, including President Clinton, have been proved wrong.
Sinn Fein is clever. The organisation will now arrange for a further temporary IRA ceasefire and will once again be embraced and trusted by those same people who have already been proved wrong. The greater number of people in Northern Ireland will not be so easily fooled. As Dick Spring, the Irish Republic's foreign minister, once said: "You cannot expect Unionists to sit down at the negotiating table with a 1,000lb bomb in a van outside."
But dialogue there must be! As one who suffered severely from an IRA attack, I know the suffering of the people of Ulster, London and Dublin (and Dublin was not immune) from terrorist attacks. These attacks, and the reasons for them, must be ended.
All-party talks will not be easy. Already we have seen that all the nationalist parties from Ireland - talking to each other for six months at the Dublin Forum for Peace and Reconciliation - have recently failed to agree a common position. It was Sinn Fein that refused to reach agreement. If Sinn Fein failed to agree with the other nationalists in Dublin, it will be even more difficult to get agreement within all-party talks in Northern Ireland. But the effort must be made.
At the outset, all parties must approach such talks on an equal basis. There cannot be some who have bombed their way to the negotiating table while retaining their illegal armaments in order to use them to influence such talks; and others, totally unarmed, who simply abide by the accepted European democratic process. Accordingly, all must either proceed to these talks without illegal armaments - ie, decommissioning of arms - or alternatively proceed on the basis of being exclusively committed to peaceful methods.
The Ulster Unionists have recommended the latter process as a means of overcoming the obstacle created by Sinn Fein-IRA that they would not decommission firearms before the beginning of the all-party process.
No more time must be lost before having an election in Northern Ireland. Already valuable time has been wasted as Dublin has opposed the election in favour of haywire ideas such as a Dayton conference. They seem to forget that the Bosnian Serb paramilitaries and their mandated politicians were excluded from the Dayton conference - instead they were represented by proxy by President Milosevic of Serbia. Does Dublin want to exclude Sinn Fein-IRA on the same basis from Northern Ireland talks?
Today, Dublin is using the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement to veto democratic elections in Northern Ireland. Her Majesty's Government must now make it clear that it is the constitutional authority in Northern Ireland; and its decision, supported by the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties, to hold elections for an elected body in Ulster cannot be vetoed or delayed by Dublin on the basis of its role under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The elected body should be in place as quickly as possible. Then, that body, having no powers of administration or legislation within Northern Ireland, should proceed to appoint all-party committees to investigate and report upon the various main relationships that require attention in order that peace may be permanent.
These include Belfast-London relations; the internal administration of Northern Ireland; scope for realistic co-operation along the border; an enhanced relationship between Belfast and Dublin; and UK-Republic of Ireland relations.
This would involve the Dublin political parties having an input into several of the subcommittees, and it would probably result in all parties sharing in the administration of Northern Ireland and the Unionists taking their seats on the UK-Irish Parliamentary Body.
Let men of goodwill give the electoral process a chance and not delay peace further.
The writer is MP for Strangford and Deputy Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
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