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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Imperfect peace 'better than none'

Debate rages on state of the paramilitary ceasefires

BBC NI chief security correspondent Brian Rowan looks at the factors behind Mo Mowlam's decision not to impose harsh sanctions on republicans, while accepting that the IRA did murder a Belfast taxi driver.

The government's verdict on the IRA ceasefire comes as no surprise.

In the period leading up to today's statement, informed sources were predicting there would be a stern warning but that no sanctions would be imposed on republicans such as a temporary halt to prisoner releases.

The Search for Peace

In other words the secretary of state would issue a yellow card on this occasion and keep the red card on hold.

Dr Mowlam has accepted security advice that the IRA was involved in the murder of Belfast man Charles Bennett and in a plot to smuggle arms from the United States.

But she told a news conference on Thursday that the ceasefire hadn't broken down and "nor do I believe that it is disintegrating".

In otherwords she has concluded that an imperfect peace is better than no peace at all.

Sinn Fein should use influence

But she also expects Sinn Fein to use its influence to ensure that all violence stops and not just the attacks that the IRA would consider to fall within the terms of the "complete cessation of military operations" it announced in August 1994 and again in July 1997.

Dr Mowlam said that she came very close "to judging that the IRA's ceasefire is no longer for real".

But the reality is she would have found it difficult if not impossible to move against the IRA without also punishing the loyalist organisations, all of whom have broken their ceasefires.

We wait now to see if the IRA and the loyalist groups back off.

They must realise that the Secretary of State will be under even greater pressure to act if violence continues.

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