IRA Folly

THE bomb-throwers in the outlawed Irish Republican Army may think they are accomplishing something through their repudiation of the cease-fire and renewed bombing campaign in London. Instead, however, they are both alienating those in Britain, Ireland, and the United States who have advocated trying to deal with them and throwing away the only chance they may ever get of achieving any of their aims.

Until President Clinton altered long-standing American policy, the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, were pariahs everywhere. Mr. Clinton took a lot of flak - irritating his own foreign-policy and security bureaucracy and Britain, the US's No. 1 ally - by granting Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams repeated visas and meeting with him at the White House. The unfortunate British foot-dragging in the peace process is no excuse for the IRA's casting aside of Clinton's good offices, which got the IRA and Sinn Fein more respectability and political leverage than they had ever had before.

The signs are not encouraging. Press reports emanating from Ireland say that the IRA leadership has reorganized, with one of the most radical and bellicose figures in the organization taking the helm. Other reports have it that the IRA has moved its headquarters from Belfast to Dublin. If that is the case, the Irish authorities should do their utmost to track down and bring to justice the IRA terrorists.

Meanwhile, the renewed bombing has blown away Adams's last shreds of credibility as a negotiating partner (that may have been intentional). He could restore it now only by a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the violence. Until he does, the message from Washington should be clear: No more American visas and no meetings with top US officials.

Whether Adams can bring the IRA's "hard men" back to the cease-fire is another matter. But there's still time to return to the path of peace. The ball is in the IRA's court now, not Britain's. The IRA broke the cease-fire. No amount of clever propaganda can change that fact.

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