The wish for peace in Ireland is as strong now as it was before the Irish Republican Army (IRA) blew apart its cease-fire with the Feb. 9, 1996, murder of two innocent civilians on London's Canary Wharf. Since then the IRA has pursued its campaign of terror in both Northern Ireland and on the British mainland.
It appears that within the Irish republican movement there is still a belief that violence will break the resolve of the Protestant unionist majority to remain British - a resolve that 27 years of IRA terrorism has clearly reinforced, rather than weakened.
Writing in this newspaper last Oct. 23, former US National Security Adviser Anthony Lake said the chance of finding a solution was enhanced "if all of the parties - including Sinn Fein - are sitting at the same table." He also wrote that this could happen only if the IRA restored its cease-fire. All of this is eminently sensible if you ignore one basic fact: A simple restoration of the previous IRA cease-fire will not produce the conditions necessary for inclusive peace talks.
Why? Because the restoration of a cease-fire without a commitment to democratic principles will not persuade unionists to sit down with the IRA/Sinn Fein leadership.
In the Crumlin Road jail in Belfast in January 1990, Danny Morrison, the IRA's director of publicity and one of its leading strategists, outlined to me the IRA's reason for declaring a ceasefire: to force unionists into a confrontation with the British government. Indeed, a cease-fire was not a long-term commitment by the IRA to democracy and peace. It was a tactical move.
Furthermore, it is extremely difficult for unionists to sit at the table with people who for 27 years have pursued a campaign of terror aimed at their extinction. It is even more difficult unless the cease-fire clearly states that the campaign of terror is over for good.
The government of the Irish republic, led by Prime Minister John Bruton, has taken a tough line with Sinn Fein/IRA: no way into talks for Sinn Fein until the IRA renounces violence. If peace is to be achieved in Northern Ireland, the United States must follow the lead set by Mr. Bruton and British Prime Minister John Major.
The American administration must refrain from any action that does not meet with the approval of the British and Irish governments. Essentially, this is a matter for Anglo-Irish cooperation. American help is to be welcomed, but only within the context of supporting both governments.
The evidence of the last cease-fire - when murder by the IRA under a cover name and punishment beatings continued - means that there is little confidence in Ireland that the republican leadership is serious in its oft-quoted desire for peace.
It is quite likely that, following the forthcoming British general election, the IRA will declare another cease-fire. Whether that will be a genuine renunciation of terrorism or another strategic exercise remains to be seen. History clearly teaches us that peace must not be bought at any price. Peace in Ireland must, if it is not to result in tyranny, be on democratic terms. That entails terrorist groups renouncing violence and relying solely on their electoral mandate.
If the IRA clearly renounces terrorism then Sinn Fein, which represents 15 percent of Northern Ireland's electorate, may take its place at the negotiating table. But - and this is most important - 15 percent cannot be allowed to dictate the outcome of any settlement. Every political party in Ireland and Britain, with the exception of Sinn Fein, has signed on to the principle that there can be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
SINN Fein's refusal to sign on to this basic democratic principle lends weight to suspicions that it is engaging in a deceitful game aimed at destroying democracy on the island of Ireland. John Hume, leader of the Social and Democratic Labour Party, Northern Ireland's largest nationalist party, certainly suggested such when he recently accused Sinn Fein of electoral fraud, intimidation, lies, and trickery during the peace process. He also warned nationalists that voting for Sinn Fein was equivalent to voting for the murder of innocent civilians. This from a man who for four years tried to bring the IRA/Sinn Fein movements into the democratic world.
There is no seat for Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams at the White House this St. Patrick's Day. That is as it should be. And there should be no seat for Sinn Fein at all-party talks until the IRA has renounced terrorism and surrendered to the democratic will of the overwhelming majority of Irish people, who have consistently rejected the IRA/Sinn Fein at election after election for 27 years.
* Sean O'Callaghan worked as an undercover agent for the Irish police while he was the officer commanding the IRA Southern Command.