Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ira Contacts May Torpedo Bid for Peace in N. Ireland

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ira Contacts May Torpedo Bid for Peace in N. Ireland

Article excerpt

The British government's reluctant admission that it has secretly communicated with the IRA has cast a shadow over months of peacemaking efforts for Northern Ireland.

An influential Protestant leader has demanded British Prime Minister John Major's resignation. Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally, said the contacts were more substantial than the British government was willing to admit.

The secrecy surrounding the contacts underscores Britain's fear that publicity could blow apart the peace efforts.

Major is due to meet his Irish counterpart, Albert Reynolds, next month in Dublin, where they hope to reach agreement on a way toward peace.

But Northern Ireland's Protestant majority already suspects that Britain may try to cut a deal with the IRA. British agents seized a record cache of arms last week intended for Protestant paramilitaries, and Protestant politicians said the seizure showed the paramilitaries were preparing for war.

The IRA wants Northern Ireland to unite with the Irish Republic, which is predominantly Catholic. The province's Protestant community supports continued British rule, fearing it will lose its influence in a mainly Catholic nation.

At least 3,100 people have been killed in 23 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

After weeks of denials, the British government admitted Sunday that it has had secret communications with the IRA in hope of persuading the outlawed group to end its violent campaign against the British.

The disclosure was made by Sir Patrick Mayhew, Britain's leading official for Northern Ireland. He said Britain had long used intermediaries as contacts with Sinn Fein.

The government was forced to concede the existence of the contacts after The Observer newspaper published on Sunday the text of Mayhew's instructions to an emissary who met Martin McGuinnes, the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, in March. …

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