The blame for the breakdown of the ceasefire lies, firstly, with the Provisional IRA. There can be no equivocation of any kind on that question: they carried out the Canary Wharf bombing and killed two totally innocent people.
Having said that I also believe that the British government have grossly mishandled the situation over the past few months. We had 17 months of peace. To maintain that peace, the government should have convened all-party talks long ago.
In addition the Prime Minister presented an unbalanced view of the Mitchell Report’s recommendations to parliament. Senator Mitchell’s main stress was on decommissioning of weapons alongside all-party talks. There was vague mention of elections in the Report, but this was the point that John Major chose to stress. Although the bombing had been under preparation for some time, this speech seemed to trigger the Provos into action.
John Major has had an eye on the voting arithmetic in parliament, he has been under pressure from the Tory right and the peace process has, consequently, been allowed to drift. So I am pleased that John Major and John Bruton have announced a date for all-party negotiations: 10 June. Major has said this date is sacrosanct and will not be moved for anyone.
Proximity talks are now starting at Stormont. The SDLP is willing to talk to anyone in the search for peace.
The details of the forthcoming elections will have to be sorted out. Perhaps the parties will be able to come to an agreement acceptable to the government. If not the government will have to decide the form of the elections. But, in any event, there will be elections before 10 June.
The question therefore is: where do we go after 10 June?
My party is a nationalist party, but we are much more concerned about the question of peace than that of a united Ireland. We do not talk of a united Ireland, what interests us right now is reconciliation between two peoples divided by history.
Such a reconciliation can only come about by agreement and respect for the different traditions.
Perhaps, one day, there will be a united Ireland — but if so it will be brought about by consent. By a united Ireland we mean a united people, and people can not be united by guns and bombs.
There are three areas we need to examine: the relations between the two communities in the North; the relations between North and South; the relations between Britain and Ireland.
There could be a local administration in the North, but only with the other two sets of relationships agreed and in place at the same time. There is no question of having a power-sharing administration in the North and then, after that is in place, allowing such a body to deal with North-South relations. That is not on. Nationalists would not accept this. All such relations must be agreed as part of one package.
Joe Hendron is SDLP MP for West Belfast.