The murder of five British soldiers, blown up in the armored car May 19, marks a shattering revival of the IRA violence which had been partly damped down during the height of the IRA hunger-strike campaign.
Clearly, the strategists of the Provisional wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army feel they can continue to reap worldwide anti-Brittish publicity for the hunger-striking prisoners even without the comparative calm they have enforced on their ranks to "dignify" the hunger-strikers' deaths.
But with the renewed violence, they risk once again alienating local Roman Catholic opinion which had swung in their direction as Bobby Sands and other inmates of the Maze prison here weakened and died."
And they have also hardened British resolve to ride out the hunger strikes -- even as Raymond McCreesh, nears death on the 61st day of his fast.
The five British casualties in the beautiful but deadly rural outback of Ulster brings the total security force deaths since 1971 to 602. The Provisionals' attacks against what they describe as "British war machine" have been relentless, apart from several short and uneasy truces in the mid-'70s. The Provisionals tried to lessen the violence just before the death of hunger striker and British member of Parliament Sands on May 5, and after his funeral as well.
However, the Provisionals' tactics were not totally nonviolent. Since Sands' death, two policemen as well as the five soldiers have died. There have been 46 shootings and 95 explosions.
A spokesman for the Provisional Sinn Fein in Belfast said, "The attack in South Armagh was significant in the number of people killed but there have been a number of other attacks on the Army and the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] since Bobby Sands' death."
Such attacks indicate that the Republican movement is prepared to back both politics and violence. The Provisional spokesman in Belfast said, "The policy of gaining support through the hunger strikes will continue, and as men die, more men will be separated to replace them." The Provisionals' main problem is how to win increasing Catholic support without alienating potential supporters through violence.
There has been a constant debate within the movement between those who are more political and those who are less tactically minded. But all the while te backdrop has been that of violence.
Gerry Adams is now a vice-president of Provisional Sinn Fein and he is one of the leading strategists in the Republican movement. He told a Provisional Sinn Fein conference last year. "It is time that Republicans recognized that there can be no military solution. There can only be a political solution to the problem of the north. Republicans cannot sit back and let the IRA fight away."
The Provisionals have learned a great deal politically from the recent hunger strikes. They have gained worldwide publicity; they have begun to mobilize Catholic support among those who do not support violence but who are outraged that Irishmen are starving themselves to death in a British jail while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher seems impassive about the fate.
In the background there are a Republican hard-liners who argue that the more dignified response of reduced violence following hunger strike deaths is not enough.
Meanwhile the British mood was reflected in Mrs. Thatcher's icy reply to Tomas Cardinal O Fiaich, who appealed for more flexibility by the British. She said that the solution lies "with the leaders of the Provisional IRA, who have taken a cold-blooded decision that the unfortunate men now fasting in prison are of more use to them dead than alive."
In short the future promises more, not less, confrontation as both sides hold fast.