THE ATTACKS on New York and Washington may well have an impact on the Northern Ireland peace process, since the Bush administration is bound to review its attitude towards Sinn Fein and the IRA.
Although one cannot yet say whether the airliner attacks will lead to a sea-change in Washington's attitude, the United States will obviously develop a new and tougher attitude towards armed groups. The key question is whether this will encompass the IRA. The republicans will initially be thanking their lucky stars that they have no known association with Osama bin Laden.
But America has already been pressing republicans for an explanation of the role of the three Irish republicans who were arrested last month in Colombia, and on links with the Farc guerrillas there. So far as is known, no such explanation has been provided.
This has already cast a shadow over Sinn Fein, since Washington regards Farc as both narco-terrorists and sworn enemies of the US. The IRA itself has been silent, while Sinn Fein maintains the three men had nothing to do with them. Sinn Fein continues to deny reports that one of the men was its official representative in Cuba.
This week, a senior US diplomat, Richard Haass, who is the Bush administration's leading player on Northern Ireland, has been in Belfast for meetings with various parties including Sinn Fein. He has twice raised the question of Colombia in public comments, and discussed it at his meeting with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president. Mr Adams is said to have raised the issue first at the meeting, acknowledging that Colombia is important for the US but maintaining that Sinn Fein "has no case to answer" in relation to the three men.
In the days after the Colombian arrests there was speculation that Mr Adams might drop plans to visit Cuba, where he is due to meet President Fidel Castro. Sinn Fein insists, however, that the trip will go ahead later this year.
The Ulster Unionist Party has been lobbying Washington to push republicans hard on the Colombian issue. A party delegation was actually on its way to the United States when this week's attacks took place, causing its flight to be diverted. …