Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - January 14, 1975, Lethbridge, Alberta
32 THE LETH9RIDGE HERALD -.TuMdiy, 14, 1975, British, IRA inching toward North Ireland peace LONDON (Reuter) Through undercover contacts, the British government> and the outlawed Provisional Irish Republican Army are cautiously inching their way towards peace in Northern Ireland. With the IRA's current truce due to expire next Thur- sday, British ministers are working against a deadline in planning their next moves to maintain the peace momen- tum in a highly-volatile situation. Both sides know that a mis- calculation or false step might plunge Northern Ireland and its 1.5 million people back into the familiar pattern of bombs and shootings. Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Northern Ireland secretary of state, Merlyn Rees, have been tak- ing a long, hard took at the IRA's proposals for converting the truce, in oper- ation since Dec. 22, into a per- manent ceasefire. The British response is like- ly to be defined in a parlia- mentary statement by Rees soon. He is expected to outline a conditional on a cessation of w.ould produce a progressive reduction in the army's commitment in Northern Ireland as well as phased release of the 540 Roman Catholic republicans and Protestant loyalists detained without trial. The big majority of these are republicans. A number of detainees have already been released as a gesture during the ceasefire and there are unconfirmed reports that another 50 will be freed soon. A reduction in the army's presence and release of de- tainees were two of the Provi- sipnals' conditioners for tem- porarily halting their cam- paign. Activities by the troops have declined. Britain has adopted a stage- by-stage approach in its ef- forts to keep the ceasefire go-" ing indefinitely without appearing to be making concessions to terrorism. The delicate problem for British ministers is to decide how far they can go in en- couraging the IRA to keep the peace without causing a violent backlash from Ulster's protestant majority, whose militant politicians see any deal with the guerrillas as a sellout. There is a mounting op- timism in Belfast and Dublin, based on reports from well- placed republican sources, that given some signs of reciprocity from London the IRA leadership will itrolong the ceasefire beyond next Thursday to at least the end of the month. This would give Britain more time to study, and react to, the proposals for a lasting peace. A decision to. stretch out the truce once again might be re- lated to the heavy pressures being exerted by Catholic Church leaders and politicians and, more importantly, from within the Catholic com- munities on whose support the guerrillas must depend. The supreme the Provisional IRA, its eight-man army council, seems to have become much more flexible in its peace con- ditions, especially the in- sistence on a declaration of in- tent by Britain to get out of Northern Ireland ultimately. The army council, through its contacts with British of- ficials, must know that at this stage there is no hope of such a declaration. Britain has firmly pledged that Northern Ireland will re- main part of the United King- dom as long as the majority of its people want to keep the British connection. Any breach of this pledge would undoubtedly unleash the Protestant private ar- mies, like the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, for a confrontation with Britain and possibly a civil war, ob- servers believe. The hope is that the IRA might be satisfied with some formula stopping short of a withdrawal declaration, but indicating that the future of the British presence would be left for the people of Northern Ireland themselves to decide. This would be in line with current British policy to let Northern Ireland work out its own salvation. Elections are to be held, possibly next March, to es- tablish a constitutional convention that would recom- mend the future shape of the government. Britain, which has the ultimate say, has stipulated that any new ad- ministration must have some form of power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics. With the religious divisions aggravated by the violence, there is no doubt that the forthcoming elections will produce a convention dominated by politicians who want to keep the British link and reject the idea of merging with the southern Irish republic. 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