A heightened sense of fear and gloom pervades Northern Ireland as the feeling spreads that there will be more sectarian violence in the British province before there is any likelihood of a lasting peace.
The fear was intensified on Wednesday night when a 23-year-old British soldier, Stephen Restorick, was shot dead by a sniper in the IRA stronghold of Armagh, near the border with the Irish Republic.
The IRA broke its 17-month cease-fire a year ago with attacks in London and, since October, in Northern Ireland. The new attack, widely presumed to be carried out by the IRA, raised anxiety that Protestant para-militaries, who have observed a cease-fire of their own since October 1994, would retaliate.
The parents of the dead soldier appealed to the Protestant groups not to retaliate. The Combined Loyalist Military Command, a Protestant umbrella group, is expected to meet in the next few days to consider whether to renew its own military campaign.
In Strabane, a town in the western part of the province where a 1,500-pound IRA bomb had been defused on Monday, the head of the district council, Edward Turner, caused a public uproar by stating that security was so bad that outside investors should stay away.
Prime Minister John Bruton of Ireland said after the shooting, “The IRA campaign is anti-Irish and contrary to the interests of all in Ireland.”
Bruton, who faces a national election later in the year, has already been attacked by political opponents as head of a government that lost the peace that had come after the IRA called its cessation in August 1994.
But even before the soldier’s death, political leaders and prominent officials, who normally try to put a hopeful spin on events, seemed resigned to the prospect that there will be no progress toward peace until after the British elections, to be held before the end of May.
Former Sen. George Mitchell, chairman of the stalled peace talks that began in June in Belfast, acknowledged in an interview that he did not think significant progress could be made until after the British election. He said it was likely that the talks would be suspended for a month as soon as the date of the British election was announced.
“Progress has been slow,” Mitchell said, “and there has been little progress. But I don’t think there’s any alternative to the talks. Certainly not the path of violence. I don’t for a minute underestimate the difficulties.”
During the IRA cease-fire, he said, “people got used to two years of relative peace and security. Most people have deep differences,” he added, referring to the Protestant majority and the Roman Catholic minority in the province. “There is not a long history of working with each other, talking with each other, but it can come over time.”
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