IRA attack closely followed ceasefire talks


THE IRA attack in Belfast on Friday, in the Royal Children's Hospital, came only hours after negotiations to establish grounds for an IRA ceasefire, it has been gleamed.

It had been hoped that a formula could have been worked out between senior government officials and Sinn Fein to allow the party's swift entry into political talks in Northern Ireland after an IRA ceasefire.

It is not known what progress was made at the meeting. However, it is understood that the meeting was a last ditch effort to achieve an IRA ceasefire, if not by Christmas then early in the new year.

Within a few hours of the meeting, the IRA men walked into the paediatric intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital complex and opened fire on police officers guarding the DUP figure, Mr Nigel Dodds, whose young son is seriously ill.

The callousness of the attack was almost certainly designed to provoke a loyalist response and, effectively, scupper talks on a renewed ceasefire.

It is understood the Government still accepts there is a genuine interest on the part of the Sinn Fein leadership of Mr Gerry Adams in renewing a ceasefire. However, there is said to be strong opposition to a ceasefire from senior elements of the IRA.

Two prominent IRA figures in particular, are said to be opposing a new ceasefire. One is a Belfast man who has served many years in prison and was closely involved in the IRA bombing campaign ink Britain in the early 1970s.

While he was directing IRA attacks in England, the organisation carried out some of its most bloody attacks, including the no warning bombings at public houses in Birmingham and Guildford in 1974.

Security sources say this, man now in his mid 50s and living in west Belfast, is an uncompromising believer in the "armed struggle" and does not wish to see any move towards non violent activity until there is a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

He is supported in this view by the man said to be the IRA chief of staff, who lives in north Monaghan. This man, originally from Co Tyrone, also has a history of involvement in very vicious attacks along the Border area.

He has not served any great length of time in prison, although he was imprisoned for a short time in the Republic in the 1970s on arms offences.

The position held by these two men is also supported by one of the IRA's leading logistics figures who is from Newry, Co Down.

It had been hoped that a compromise arrangement about Sinn Fein's entry into talks, with a reduced emphasis on any decommissioning issues, could have assuaged the more violent elements of the republican movement comprising Sinn Fein and the IRA.

The attack on Friday must have been sanctioned by figures senior enough to know that talks had reached a critical stage. They must have known what a negative impact it would have on any peace negotiations.

There is speculation that the IRA may now not even call a temporary ceasefire.

A man was taken to hospital with gunshot wounds to his leg after a so called punishment shooting in Bangor, Co Down, last night. The 42 year old man was found outside the Kilcooley community centre at around 7.30 p.m., the RUC said.