Sinn Fein, the legal political arm of the Irish republican movement of which the Irish Republican Army is the illegal "military" arm, belongs at the table in talks on the future of Northern Ireland. But the ongoing terrorism of the IRA has provoked Sinn Fein's exclusion.
For nearly a half-year, the complicated three-strand talks involving Britain and Ireland have been suspended and the province has been mesmerized as John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, talked to Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein.
Since they both are supported by Catholics and both favor unification with the Irish Republic, any agreement between them is less than half the battle. Mr. Hume talks to the Irish government which talks to the British government. Through Mr. Hume, the IRA was talking to Prime Minister John Major's government, which was all to the good.
Not everyone approves. The Ulster Unionists and more populist Democratic Unionists in the Protestant community might walk out of any room Mr. Adams entered, even after a cease-fire. That is a risk worth taking. More important, although Mr. Adams is a canny political animal who might want to switch to pure politics, others in the IRA would not. Since its birth in Dublin 77 years ago, the IRA has been so split that whenever the larger part made peace, a splinter would fight.
That would probably happen were Mr. Adams willing and able to lead the greater part into a political process now. The atrocity Saturday, when an IRA bomb at a fish and chips shop killed nine persons and injured 50 in the poor Protestant bastion of the Shankill Road in Belfast, may have torpedoed these talks. That might even have been the purpose. No wonder Mr. Adams denounced it and the IRA promised an investigation.
The danger now is retaliation against innocent Catholics by the illegal Ulster Freedom Fighters, the alleged target of the botched bombing. Terrorism by the UFF and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) on the Protestant loyalist side has lately outstripped terrorism by the IRA.
The Belfast atrocity is in the IRA tradition of faulty aim. Along with bombings of commuter rail lines near London, it is meant to stop the political process. The British and Irish governments and loyalist political parties and SDLP should not let the IRA dictate whether they talk. If Mr. Adams cannot deliver the IRA to the peace table, they should get on with it, and without him.