The Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ireland Stepped-up IRA violence is jeopardizing chances for peace in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Albert Reynolds said Wednesday. Six people died in politically-motivated attacks this week, including three by IRA gunmen.

In remarks laced with frustration, Reynolds singled out the IRA, saying its return to daily attacks suggested "a deep-seated contempt" for the peace initiative he made jointly with British Prime Minister John Major.

The remarks were Reynolds' most pessimistic on the peace process since Britain and Ireland on Dec. 15 offered Sinn Fein, the IRA's political partners, a place in talks if the IRA ended its campaign against British rule.

Sinn Fein insists the offer isn't clear and wants talks first with British representatives. The government has refused.

After a period of relative quiet and a three-day cease-fire after Easter, the IRA this week has again intensified its campaign to oust the British from the province.

"Sinn Fein leaders have claimed that the achievement of peace is the total priority of their organization. How do they expect this to be believed by the public, when they see republican violence on the rise again?" Reynolds said.

"The best-ever opportunity for peace is being put in danger," Reynolds told a meeting of British and Irish lawmakers at Dublin Castle, from where Britain ruled all of Ireland until partition in 1920.

On Sunday, IRA militants machine-gunned two Protestants to death as they sat in cars in a village west of Belfast. On Monday night, the IRA moved against alleged drug dealers in Catholic parts of Belfast, shooting 16 men in the knees and killing 23-year-old Francis Rice.

In apparent retaliation for Sunday's killings, the outlawed, Protestant-based Ulster Defense Association killed a Catholic man as he watched television in his north Belfast home Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, two gunmen from the Irish National Liberation Army, an IRA breakaway group, killed a Protestant man and wounded another in a fishing tackle store.

Later in the day, gunmen killed a man in a Catholic section of Belfast. The outlawed Protestant paramilitary group the Ulster Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility. Police said the killing was apparently in retaliation for the slaying of the Protestant earlier Wednesday.

"I am naturally disappointed that the peace process has not yet borne fruit, and that there are worrying signs of a return to tit-for-tat murders," Reynolds said.

More than 3,100 people have been slain in Northern Ireland's quarter-century of political-sectarian violence. Another 100 have died in the Irish Republic and 120 in Britain, mostly in bombings. Read Next Article