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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February 2005, 18:14 GMT
IRA keeping everyone in the dark
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Serenaded by a group of young musicians in Derry's Guildhall Square, the Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern responded by confiding that the Beatles were his favourite group. He particularly liked "Let it Be".

If the scene appeared a little surreal perhaps it was because Mr Ahern was being glad handed around the city by the Sinn Fein Mayor Gerry O'Hara and the party's local luminaries Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin.

The Irish government and the republican movement have certainly found themselves in times of trouble lately. But whatever they have been whispering to each other it hasn't been "words of wisdom".

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams refused to interpret the IRA statement

Amidst the shrill rhetorical hostilities between the IRA, Dublin and London, Gerry Adams has been humming his own version of "Let It Be".

Asked to comment on the apparently threatening statements from the IRA, the Sinn Fein president says he would rather let the IRA words speak for themselves.

Looked on for decades as the most articulate spokesman in support of the republican cause, he now maintains the day when he interpreted IRA statements is over.

This sound of silence seems quite deliberate. Most people don't care too much about decoding IRA and Sinn Fein statements full of words like "quiescent" and "transient".

They just want to know if the ceasefire will hold. However, appearing at a Stormont news conference, Mr Adams refused to answer a series of direct questions about the stability of the ceasefire.

As usual, he was treading a fine line. If he had said the ceasefire could break down soon he would have been accused of making an explicit threat.

'Ominous development'

If he had said the IRA cessation would hold no matter what happens, then those who have labelled the IRA's withdrawal of its offer to disarm as a "tantrum" would feel vindicated. So the 64,000 dollar question was left hanging in the air.

The former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre - now pursuing a very different tack from his old comrades - told the Inside Politics programme he believes Gerry Adams deliberately wishes to spread uncertainty.

His theory is that the threat of IRA violence keeps Sinn Fein centre stage and increases their media profile and consequent political weight.

The consensus amongst the British and Irish governments appears to be that the IRA doesn't intend to go back to violence. Apart from whatever they are gleaning from informers within its ranks, officials probably base this on two factors.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair
The governments seem determined to press ahead with sanctions

One is that in the world after September 11th the IRA would not want the world, and especially the United States, to look on them as the "bad guys".

The other consideration is that with a general election looming a renewed IRA campaign would not help Sinn Fein expand further into traditional SDLP territory.

However, another former IRA prisoner Danny Morrison describes the latest terse IRA statement as an "ominous development".

He warns that "the IRA defies conventional analysis. If it decided there was a case to be made for a return to armed struggle it would go down that road without regard to the post 9/11 perception of the world."

Huff and puff? Or a real sign that we are on the brink? The government seems determined to press ahead with sanctions regardless of any implicit or explicit threats, and republicans are deliberately keeping everyone in the dark about the IRA's true intentions.

Those who remember with dread that evening in February 1996 when the first telephone warnings came through of a bomb in the Docklands can only keep their fingers crossed and hope.


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