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British Cabinet Minister Says IRA Has Honored Ceasefire

By T.R. Reid

The British cabinet minister responsible for Northern Ireland declared today that the Irish Republican Party has adhered “overall” to its 1997 cease-fire pledge, despite apparent IRA involvement in recent incidents of violence and gun-running.

The declaration by Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam means that Sinn Fein, the political party affiliated with the IRA, can participate in the upcoming review of the stalemated peace process in Northern Ireland. It also means that Mowlam will continue to grant early release from prison to IRA bombers and kidnappers.

Citing the murder last month of a cab driver in Belfast, and an IRA attempt this summer to smuggle in weapons from Florida, Mowlam said “I have come very close to judging that the IRA’s cease-fire is no longer for real.” But as an “overall judgment,” she went on, she could not conclude that “these recent events represent a decision by the organization to return to violence.”

If the factual question was a close call, Mowlam had almost no choice as a political matter. If she had concluded that the IRA was back on a war footing, Sinn Fein would not have a role in next month’s discussions to revive the peace process begun by last year’s Good Friday Agreement. Without Sinn Fein’s presence, there probably can not be further progress toward peace.

The key to the peace process in the British province has been the involvement of all sides in the bitter conflict there. The 1.6 million residents of Northern Ireland are split between “republicans” like Sinn Fein -- who want to merge the province into the Republic of Ireland to the south -- and “unionists,” who want to maintain the political union with Britain. There also is a growing segment of the population that just wants an end the conflict, regardless of the result.

The peace talks are stalemated for the moment, and the effort to launch a multi-party local government is on hold.