Letter: Ulster's dilemma

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Donald Macintyre suggests ("Ulster may yet prove the triumph of politics over tribal feelings", 2 April) that if Sir Patrick Mayhew had not put forward his "Washington Three" conditions, decommissioning might never have become the fundamental issue of the Irish peace process. The truth is almost the opposite of that. If decommissioning had not already been a central issue, Sir Patrick would not have put forward those conditions.

The Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 said that "the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of and support for paramilitary violence" and that in those circumstances "democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful means" would be "free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead".

In the Dail, Dick Spring, then Irish foreign minister, said: "Questions were raised on how to determine a permanent cessation of violence. We are talking about the handing up of arms and are insisting that it would not be simply a temporary cessation of violence to see what the political process offers. There can be no equivocation in relation to the determination of both Governments in that regard." Sir Patrick made a similar statement.

The Irish government's position changed after the first IRA ceasefire of 31 August 1994. In December, the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, said that it was not a sensible precondition to require the IRA to hand in weapons before multilateral talks began. On 1 March 1995, Gerry Adams said that decommissioning would happen at the end of the negotiations, not the beginning. The British were also under pressure from the Americans.

The conditions set out in Sir Patrick's speech in Washington on 7 March were "a willingness in principle to disarm progressively", an agreement on the method of decommissioning, and a start to the process as a "tangible confidence-building measure". Sir Patrick wanted Sinn Fein to meet those conditions before entering negotiations. Is it unreasonable, four years later, to expect them to be met before Sinn Fein can enter the Executive?

STEPHEN PLOWDEN

London NW1

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