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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 February 2005, 03:33 GMT
IRA move does not spell violence
By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland Correspondent

The IRA is huffing and puffing, ranting and raving but not yet on the verge of full-scale bombing and shooting.

That seems to be the message coming out of its latest statements on the faltering peace process.

Guns
The IRA has withdrawn its offer to complete decommissioning

Although 30 years' experience teaches you to judge the IRA by its actions, not its words, alarm bells are not yet ringing in the offices of the London and Dublin governments.

In neither of the IRA statements issued this week was there a direct threat to the ceasefire.

Yes, one line of the second statement could be interpreted as sinister - "do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation" - but if the IRA really wanted to frighten people, it could have found more menacing words.

'New mode'

An end to the seven-year ceasefire can never be ruled out, and the IRA is highly unpredictable, but would it really happen now? In the run-up to a Westminster election? With Sinn Fein hoping to make significant gains?

There are tensions within the ranks, rumblings of discontent over the leadership's offer in December to destroy all its weapons

It seems unlikely. And that is not just a political view, it's also a security assessment of the IRA made by Northern Ireland's chief constable Hugh Orde.

But that doesn't mean everything in the republican garden is rosy. Far from it.

There are tensions within the ranks, rumblings of discontent over the leadership's offer in December to destroy all its weapons and go into a "new mode".

Although the proposed deal fell apart, some republicans were distinctly unimpressed. For them, the possibility of republican history being turned on its head to satisfy the long list of demands of hardline unionist leaders like Ian Paisley, was a step too far.

Bank robbery

There seems to be an internal management problem in the IRA, but republicans are talking about "stresses and strains" rather than splits.

Faced with these difficulties, did the IRA leadership sanction the recent multi-million-pound Northern Bank robbery, in order to allow its members to let off some steam?

In summary, the political situation is a mess, and it's just got messier

That's what some security and political sources believe.

The IRA, of course, denies involvement in the 26m theft, but few outside the republican movement take the denial seriously.

In summary, the political situation is a mess, and it's just got messier.

The British and Irish prime ministers are now trying to tidy things up, before they get even worse. One idea is to set up a shadow assembly at Stormont in the coming months.

It would at least bring Northern Ireland's warring politicians together in a physical sense, if not a political sense.

Way forward

Perhaps then the sharp elbows of party leaders like Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley would be blunted, and the finger-pointing would stop.

At the moment, that's the best London and Dublin can hope for - an improvement in the political atmosphere. They know a deal in the foreseeable future is out of the question.

Unionists are pressing for a way forward which excludes Sinn Fein, but it's not a view shared by London and Dublin.

Moving ahead without Sinn Fein could create more problems than it solves.

The considered view is that if you marginalise republicans completely, then alarm bells really would start ringing.




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