Shattered cease-fire in Ulster IRA bomb: Parties of peace need to pick up the pieces quickly.

February 13, 1996

THE IRA BOMB in the City of London on Friday reminded all people in Northern Ireland how welcome the cease-fire of the past 17 months has been. It brought tranquillity, created hope, showed what investment and tourism lie in store and clearly brought economic development across the border in the Irish Republic.

In restarting terrorism -- so comparable to atrocities at Oklahoma City and the New York World Trade Center -- the IRA was sending a message. It was that Britain should get on with all-party talks and not add preconditions such as the destruction of illegal weapons. The message heard by Ulster Unionists and the British government, however, was the opposite. It was that they had been right all along to insist on "the decommissioning" of arms and that the cease-fire had only been opportunistic.

Whether this was a "one-off" message or the start of a new campaign was not clear, but a pall descended with resumed security measures and check-points. Whether the IRA thought to resume terrorism only in London, sparing the people of Northern Ireland, was also unclear. But this would not wash with Ulster Unionists, the Irish government or the people of Northern Ireland, much less the British government.

No party greeted the bombing by calling the peace process dead. All demanded that the IRA's political affiliate, Sinn Fein, and its leader, Gerry Adams, choose between politics and terror. This, in a wordy onslaught, he refused to do, marking time until his movement has decided. The bombing not only cut the ground from Mr. Adams. It embarrassed those who had put great stock in his conversion, notably John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), and the Dublin government.

In the impasse preceding the bombing, two procedures were up for discussion. The British government, echoing Ulster Unionists, proposed elections to an assembly charged with drafting a peace plan. The Dublin government proposed "proximity talks," in which Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists could sit in adjoining rooms while a mediator shuttled between. These ideas are not mutually exclusive.

The need to restart momentum is great. The U.S. may have a helpful role to play. President Clinton and his Northern Ireland negotiator, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, have won the trust of all parties. The Clinton administration cannot impose a procedure, but it can insist on the renunciation of terrorism and help keep contacts going. The resumption of bombing isolated the IRA from some of its support and showed all others their common values.

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