DUBLIN, IRELAND — Leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland have been making their way to London this week for meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But yesterday a spokesman for Mr. Blair said he would not meet Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams before talks on the future of Northern Ireland restart in September.
Sinn Fein's armed wing, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), resumed its cease-fire last month, giving added hope for those negotiations.
The first IRA cease-fire ended after 18 months with a massive bomb explosion in London in February 1996. The IRA was unhappy with the rate of political progress being achieved under the Conservative Party government in Britain. Now the IRA appears to believe it can do business with new, recently elected governments in both Britain and Ireland.
The IRA's resumed cease-fire means the main terrorist groups on both sides of the conflict have announced an end to the use of violence to achieve their political ambitions.
Nevertheless, the peace that exists in Northern Ireland is a very uneasy one.
Last week, republicans, who seek independence from Britain, planted a massive car bomb outside Lisbellaw's Hotel Carrybridge, which is owned by unionists. The 1,000-pound bomb was discovered in time, and security forces were able to disarm it successfully.
A splinter republican group using the name of the Continuity Army Council claimed responsibility for the attack. It is one of two small republican groups opposed to the IRA cease-fire. The other is the Irish National Liberation Army.
Both see themselves as continuing the link with republicans who took up arms against British rule in Ireland at Easter 1916. They want immediate British withdrawal from Northern Ireland and the region's unification with the Irish Republic.
The IRA is undoubtedly the largest and most sophisticated terrorist organization in Northern Ireland. However, these two small republican groups have a dedicated membership, as well as access to weapons and a network of people willing to provide assistance.
In response to the hotel bomb attack, Britain's Northern Ireland security minister, Adam Ingram, said that the British government will not be deflected "from its objective of securing lasting peace and stability."
Yet it is not just republican groups that are seeking to keep alive the flames of conflict in Northern Ireland. Officially, the two main Protestant paramilitary groups have held to their cease-fire of October 1994. In reality, members are believed to be responsible for planting bombs under cars owned by republicans, as well as a failed bomb attempt on republican offices in Ireland.
The main violence on the Protestant, or loyalist, side continues to come from the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). This group is disaffected from the main loyalist organizations. Approaching the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to the south, most road signs on the northern side are sprayed over with LVF slogans.
A doubt still remains about whether the largest unionist party will sit down and talk with Sinn Fein, even if the IRA cease-fire holds. Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has said that "for too long the people of Northern Ireland have grown up scared and suspicious of each other."
Many in Northern Ireland say that the only way such feelings can be overcome is if the party does not withdraw from the September talks.