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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Players wait in wings for IRA
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

It is hard to cover Northern Ireland politics right now without feeling like a member of the audience at a performance of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot".

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are playing the parts of Vladimir and Estragon waiting for the IRA Godots to turn up.

Will the republicans arrive today or will it be tomorrow? In the meantime what should the two principals do?

Estragon argues, "Don't let's do anything. It's safer".

Vladimir agrees: "Let's wait and see what he says, let's wait till we know exactly how we stand. I'm curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we'll take it or leave it."

The British and Irish governments have to wait and see
Like Godot, the IRA members are now off in the quiet of their homes, consulting their "family, friends, agents, correspondents, books and bank account, before taking a decision".

On the BBC's Inside Politics, Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness wasn't about to put the governments and the public out of their waiting misery.

He hoped the IRA response to Gerry Adams' initiative calling on them to abandon armed struggle would come sooner rather than later.

He hoped it would be positive and denied that the IRA was "stringing things out".

Once again it all comes down to exactly what the IRA says and does

He refused to be drawn on suggestions from other political sources that the IRA might tell its members to "return to base".

He did not scotch the notion that any IRA statement will be accompanied by a major act of disarmament.

But he indicated that photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning, which the DUP demanded back in December, remains highly unlikely.

'Moveable feasts'

In the Dail, Bertie Ahern has suggested that Drumcree Sunday, which falls this year on 10 July, could be an effective deadline for an IRA move.

Other sources expect the republican move in the last fortnight of June.

But past experience of the peace process suggests that, whilst the move may be imminent, deadlines are moveable feasts.

So there is nothing for it but to wait.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds says his party is "not in the business of hanging about and allowing terrorists to dictate the agenda".

Having apparently concluded that the SDLP mean it when they say they are not interested in a voluntary coalition at Stormont, the DUP seems to be concentrating on entrenching its position at Westminster and seeking to make direct rule more accountable.

This could be either through more frequent visits to Northern Ireland by the existing Westminster Select and Grand Committees or by the development of a scrutiny role for members of the suspended Stormont Assembly.

Predictably, Sinn Fein are not enamoured of these suggestions.

Some sense of what republicans might have been talking to the governments about was provided when Martin McGuinness told the BBC that if the DUP fails to respond positively to a fresh IRA initiative then London and Dublin must press forward with all-Ireland co-operation.

He talked of the possible creation of new all-Ireland implementation bodies dealing with energy, transport and communications and increased co-operation in areas like health and education.

Spooked?

Just to rub it in to the DUP, he made a point of highlighting Sinn Fein's shared vision with Dublin and the SDLP of the need for a united Ireland. Will the DUP be spooked by this?

The possibility of Tony Blair leaving Downing Street has been dangled as a carrot in front of the IRA by Dublin sources wishing to inject some urgency into the proceedings.

But the DUP may view the prospect of Gordon Brown taking over Number 10 with equanimity.

Its MP, Nigel Dodds, insists: "Any statement from the IRA which follows the well-worn path of promising much but delivering nothing will be treated with the contempt that it deserves by all right-thinking people".

Once again it all comes down to exactly what the IRA says and does.

On which note, as Samuel Beckett's Vladimir would say, "Let us not waste our time in idle discourse".


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