ALL those who hope and pray for peace in Northern Ireland are saddened by the recent upsurge in violence there. One of the most shocking incidents has been the Irish Republican Army murder last week of the second-ranking judge in Northern Ireland, Sir Maurice Gibson, and his wife, Cecily. But hope must not be abandoned. It would be too much to call the latest attacks the last desperate gasps of the IRA, but the signs that extremists are slowly losing their ground, and moderates are gaining, remain.
Last year Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, reversed its policy of boycotting any seats won in the Irish parliament. But in February's poll, Sinn Fein won less than 2 percent of the vote and not a single seat.
Further disappointment for the IRA came when Fianna Fail chief Charles Haughey dropped his earlier reservations and pledged full support for the Anglo-Irish accord. The accord, which in return for implicit acknowledgement of the partition of Ireland gives Dublin a consultative role in the governance of the six counties in the north, has inflamed the hatred of nationalist extremists. Now their hopes for at least a modification of the accord under a Haughey government have been dashed. All this has led to the ascendancy of the IRA's military wing over its political wing - and more violence.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, meanwhile, is widely expected to call elections soon. The IRA has rather a habit of stepping up its attacks before a campaign starts - and then cooling them down when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams runs for the parliamentary seat in Westminster which he continually wins and then boycotts. This time, though, he is expected to face serious opposition from a constitutional nationalist, Joe Hendron.
There are steps to be taken beyond merely counseling patience on all sides - important though that is. The stepped-up cooperation between security forces across both sides of the border needs to continue. And given, at this point, the impracticality of jury trials for suspected terrorists, Dublin is right to continue to push London for at least three-judge tribunals, instead of solo-judge courts. There is no excuse for murders like those of the Gibsons, but a fairer judiciary in Northern Ireland will give terrorism less to feed on.