The new year in Ireland has begun with an ominous warning from the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) that its renewed terror campaign in an around London is "only a taste of what is to come."
A statement from the Provisional wing of the IRA in Dublin says their new campaign will bring to the world's attention the continuing presence of British soldiers in Northern Ireland. The IRA is out to show that keeping the troops will prove to be too expensive for the British government.
Confirmation of the new offensive has followed a bitter internal argument within the highest councils of the IRA over how to react to the fresh Anglo-Irish political initiative signaled by a summit meeting between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Republic Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey.
Leaders of the IRA in Belfast, who have been bearing the brunt of the campaign for the past 10 years, had been hoping to persuade the hawks in the movement to mount a political offensive instead of another bombing campaign.
But in recent weeks Dublin-based hard-liners in the IRA have instructed an active service unit of the IRA to plant bombs at two British military installations near the center of London and at a gas plant.
The IRA has confirmed that it was behind an abortive attempt to murder Christopher Tugendhat, Britain's senior commissioner at the European Economic Commission in Brussels. He narrowly avoided injury Dec. 3 when a gunman fired at him in the Belgian capital.
In the last few days Belfast-based IRA leaders have been in the Irish Republic trying to convince other leaders of the movement that the renewed interest in Northern Ireland by Mrs. Thatcher and her government holds out the prospect of their political objectives being realized: a possible lessening of British involvement in Northern Ireland.
The IRA has been finding it difficult to maintain support -- particularly from its financial backers abroad since the murder in 1979 of Earl Mountbatten.
Their volunteers in Northern Ireland have been picked up in increasing numbers during the past year, and the Irish Republic's police force has made a number of significant arrests and more than a dozen substantial discoveries of arms dumps near the Northern Ireland border.
The IRA's leaders in the Irish Republic have argued that they must step up their campaign to prove the new cooperation between the British and Irish police is ineffective. The decision to mount another bombing offensive in Britain (the last one petered out two years ago) is seen here as their answer to those who have been saying that the IRA is suffering from recent security measures. The threatened campaign is also seen as an attempt to boost the morale of IRA supporters after the collapse of the 56-day hunger strike in Northern Ireland prisons. The prisoners vowed to stay on a hunger strike until the British authorities classified them as political prisoners instead of criminals. Weakened by their long fast, the prisoners subsequently capitulated.
One irony of the IRA's decision is that its Northern Ireland leaders seem to believe Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Haughey mean business this time -- that they have in mind a new structure of government for Northern Ireland that will go some way toward recognizing Roman Catholic demands for a closer relationship with the Irish Republic.
The Dublin-based IRA men feel Mr. Haughey has been exaggerating the achievements of the Dublin summit. They feel Mr. Haughey is dressing up his meeting with Mrs. Thatcher to prepare for his own general election, which observers say could come before this June.
The major problem facing the IRA is its ability to sustain a terrorist campaign in Britain. In the past its activists have been quickly picked up by the British police. they do not have the "safe houses" they need to operate from; they do not have access to large quantities of explosives; and most of their trained explosives experts have been rounded up in recent years.
They are also increasingly aware of a new hostility to their activities in the Irish Republic. Much of the old ambiguity among people living here has been removed following the murder of three Irish policemen this year.