THE murder by Protestant extremists of six Roman Catholics, including an 87-year-old man shot in the back, in a Northern Ireland pub as they watched a soccer match is the latest tragedy in a place all too familiar with them.
This ``inhuman savagery,'' as British Secretary for Northern Ireland Sir Patrick Mayhew put it, did not just sour what would have been Ireland's national elation at its upset victory over Italy in the World Cup. It was a clear attempt to provoke retaliation from the Irish Republican Army or some other opposing paramilitary, thereby damaging the prospects for talks based on the Dec. 15 Anglo-Irish joint declaration.
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, has called for no retaliation and, at this writing, none has been forthcoming. This is a hopeful sign that cooler heads are prevailing.
The Irish and British governments are still waiting to hear from Mr. Adams on their joint declaration, which would give the IRA a place at talks on the future of Northern Ireland in exchange for a cessation of violence. Mr. Adams promised an answer after the European Parliament elections (in which Sinn Fein faired poorly) concluded June 12. Speaking in Boston June 20, Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds said he now expects a Sinn Fein response within two weeks and was cautiously optimistic that the answer would be positive.
That is the fervent hope here as well. But progress in Northern Ireland cannot be held hostage to Sinn Fein or to Ian Paisley's unionists, who have yet to agree to take part in talks, or to paramilitary extremists on either side.
The British and Irish governments are firm and united in their stand for progress on peace. And they know they have the support of the vast majority of the people on both islands. The British government is right to move ahead with steps to allow Northern Ireland more self-government, regardless of Sinn Fein participation.
By giving up on violence, Sinn Fein has a chance to take a leading role in Northern Ireland's future. It must recognize that violence is neither the people's will nor an effective strategy.