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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IRA May End Battle Against British Rule

BELFAST -- Northern Ireland was gripped Monday by mounting expectations of a historic IRA ceasefire that could offer the province its best chance of peace in a quarter century of bereavement and bloodshed.

A weekend hint by the Irish Republican Army's political wing, Sinn Fein, that a rumored ceasefire is about to become a reality generated almost unprecedented optimism that the conflict may be only days away from a major turning point.

The province awoke to banner headlines proclaiming that the IRA is about to suspend a guerrilla battle against British rule in which around 3,000 people have died since 1969 and hardly a single family has escaped grief or despair.

"All set for a ceasefire," declared the tabloid Irish Press after Sinn Fein's statement saying the key elements for peace were falling into place. The Irish Independent saw the province heading for a breakthrough in which the IRA would, perhaps on an interim basis, pursue Irish unity through politics alone. Expectancy was fueled by Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, who spoke of an historic peace opportunity, and by the pre-emptive outrage of pro-British Protestants who accused Republicans of trying to blackmail their way to peace talks.

The IRA, whose last open-ended ceasefire in 1975 was widely acknowledged to be a disaster, is said to be considering another experiment in unarmed struggle with a view to persuading London and Dublin to improve the terms of a joint peace offer.

Under December's Anglo-Irish peace formula, Sinn Fein was promised a seat in multi-party peace talks if it could persuade the guerrillas to renounce their use of force.

To coax Sinn Fein into acceptance, Britain went some way towards meeting Republican demands for a notice to quit Northern Ireland, stating the government had no "selfish or strategic" interest in blocking moves towards a reunited Ireland.

But, given Protestants' electoral majority in the province, the declaration failed to win the endorsement of Sinn Fein, whose leader Gerry Adams signalled on Sunday he wanted more concessions from Britain before agreeing to a permanent truce.

The statement by Adams and nationalist politician John Hume urged Britain to help "demilitarize" the province and promote "an agreed Ireland" -- Sinn Fein-speak for a reduction of the British military presence and a pledge to encourage Protestants to look positively on unification with the Irish Republic.

Britain gave a lukewarm response, restating the demand for a permanent ceasefire, but Ireland's Reynolds seemed in little doubt that an IRA ceasefire was in the offing and should be taken as a serious attempt to clear away obstacles to peace.