THE terrorist murder of British member of Parliament Ian Gow, far from undermining efforts to start peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, is likely to spur politicians to persevere with the political dialogue. In a striking display of moral outrage, Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders on both sides of the Northern Ireland conflict were able to agree on one thing: Attempts by the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke to promote political dialogue must not be deflected by one of the outlawed Irish Republican Army's (IRA) most brutal assaults in the past two decades.
A close friend and adviser of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Gow - killed Monday by a car bomb - was a staunch supporter of Northern Ireland's mainly Protestant Unionists, who favor retaining the link with London. But he had won the respect of Irish Nationalist politicians on both sides of the border.
Seamus Mallon of the mainly Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, which favors Irish unity by peaceful means, said the murder was an assault on the very basis of democratic representation. He added, ``Those of us who did not always agree with Mr. Gow could not but respect the way he presented his views and share his commitment to a democratic change of views.''
Charles Haughey, the Irish Republic's premier, said, ``We differed in our views on aspects of Anglo-Irish relations, but I always recognized in him a man of honor, of integrity, and of deep conviction.''
A Downing Street official said Mrs. Thatcher was ``deeply shocked, but just as deeply determined that the bombers will not disrupt the peace process.''
Mr. Brooke, whose peace initiative was launched in the spring, said Gow's assassination underlined the need to continue a political dialogue in Ulster, as Northern Ireland is also known.
Brooke's comments were welcomed by Peter Robinson, a leading Protestant Northern Ireland politician; Mr. Mallon, the senior Roman Catholic MP; Mr. Haughey, and other leaders.
Brooke's elaborate plans for all-party talks on Northern Ireland have been deadlocked by an argument as to how and when Dublin should be involved.
Chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland, Gow was by far the most outspoken and determined advocate of the Unionist cause in the British House of Commons. Five years ago, he resigned as a minister in Thatcher's government when she signed the Anglo-Irish agreement with her opposite number in Dublin.
Gow was an implacable opponent of the agreement by which the London and Dublin governments set up limited joint sovereignty on Northern Ireland. In return for Dublin's limited advisory role in Northern Ireland's daily affairs, the Irish government agreed to recognize the political legitimacy of Northern Ireland - though this ``recognition'' of Northern Ireland has since been challenged by the Irish courts.
Gow deeply distrusted the agreement and said at the time that it ``would prolong, and not diminish, Ulster's agony.''
Gow's closeness to the British premier, who was visibly shaken by the death, and his hostility to Irish republicanism made him an obvious target for the IRA, which did not claim immediate responsibility for the bombing.
James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, and a foe of the Anglo-Irish agreement, said the first priority was to ``step up security against the terrorists,'' who must not be allowed to ``determine the course of events in Northern Ireland.''
The apparent ease with which the bombers were able to place explosives under Gow's parked car has prompted renewed efforts by Scotland Yard's antiterrorist squad to persuade MPs and others in public life to be alert to possible attacks.
Gow had received antiterrorist advice, but police said he had no bodyguard and his house, deep in the countryside, was wide open to penetration. Police confirmed that he had been on an IRA ``hit list'' of more than 100 names discovered at a bomb factory in London two years ago.
Speaking at the Gow family home in Sussex, where she attended a special church service, Thatcher said: ``Many MPs, indeed all of them, have been given advice to have special regard to their safety. I make one plea: that they take that advice seriously for themselves, their family, and their staff.''
Gow was the fourth British MP to die at the hands of terrorists in the past 12 years. The killing was the 12th by the IRA in mainland Britain since February.
In recent weeks, in a concerted campaign of violence, IRA bombers have struck at the London Stock Exchange, the home of the Conservative Party treasurer, and a West End club frequented by Cabinet ministers. They have also carried out murders in continental Europe.
Paul Wilkinson, director of the Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, said the IRA was deliberately switching from one type of target to another to create maximum uncertainty. ``They are determined to keep themselves in the headlines, because they know publicity is a key element in their activities.''
A Scotland Yard officer said: ``There are signs of desperation in the latest upsurge of IRA violence. That could be because they realize they are making no political progress.''
On the other hand, security officials concede privately that a switch of approach to recruitment by the IRA in the last year or two has made it more difficult to mount effective antiterrorist measures. ``They are now recruiting bombers in the Irish Republic, rather than in Ulster. This means we have hardly any knowledge about the individuals involved,'' a security source said.
The answer, the source said, was renewed attempts to penetrate terrorist cells.
Despite the apparently united response of Northern Ireland's political leaders to the death of Gow, Brooke's officials said he realized that bringing them together in a peace accord would be difficult.
Most Unionist politicians are likely to stick to their view that Dublin should not be brought into any discussion of power-sharing or devolved government in Belfast, the Northern Ireland capital, until Northern Ireland's politicians were agreed among themselves.
The effect of the murder of Gow may be to persuade the Northern Ireland's politicians that the only alternative to supporting the Brooke peace initiative is a continuing series of terrorist outrages.