BY BRIDGET ANN RYAN IN DUBLIN AND CRISTINA ODONE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH in
Northern Ireland emerged as a key player in the peace process in that country with revelations this week that a Catholic priest from West Belfast has been acting as intermediary between Albert Reynolds's Government and the IRA.
Fr Alec Reid, of the Clonard monastery off the Falls Road, is a regular visitor to Mr Reynolds' office and is thought to have played a key part in briefing the Irish Taioseach during the preparation of the Downing Street declaration, issued last December.
While Fr Alec Reid's part in the peace talks has not been officially acknowledged by the Irish Government, the Church's support of the IRA ceasefire as a first step towards peace, issued by Cardinal Cahal Daly this week, has already drawn the Catholic Primate of All Ireland into a public controversy that pits him against his Protestant counterilart, Archbishop Robert Eames of Armagh, as well as John Major.
In his Easter message, the cardinal urged London and Dublin carefully to consider the IRA ceasefire this week, calling it a "sincere move" that should not be "rubbished".
Despite Mr Major's condemnation of the ceasefire as "cynical" and "selfserving", Cardinal Daly said he thought there were "good objective reasons for believing this is a sincere move, even though a minimal one, by the IRA."
The cardinal, who has urged the MA to extend their threeday cease-fire, was dismissed as "naive" by a number of politicians in the North and South. But he maintained that if the IRA were to extend the ceasefire, both Mr Major and Mr Reynolds would have a serious responsibility to make a constructive response to republicans.
Cardinal Daly told The Irish Catholic that republicans must be aware of the great and growing frustration and exasperation which their delays and demands are arousing, both at Government level and the level of popular opinion". He urged them "to respond now to the window of opportunity" being offered by the two governments.
The cardinal would not confirm reports about Fr Reid's involvement in the peace deal, but security sources told The Sunday Life, a Belfast-based newspaper, that two junior civil servants and two Catholic priests met last month and as late as this week to discuss the stalled peace process. According to the report, among the measures discussed by the priests and the civil servants was the IRA ceasefire.
Clergy at the West Belfast Clonard monastery remained tight-lipped about the activities of any of its clergy in the talks. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has told journalists that lasting peace now hinges on the issue of clarification. According to Mr Adams, this could take less than an hour if' the British government were to agree to meet representatives from his party. Over 3,000 people have been killed, and 30,000 injured in the six north-eastern counties since the beginning of the Troubles.