In a speech to party activists in west Belfast, the republican leader paid one compliment to the Downing Street peace declaration, saying that it contained for the first time a British recognition of the Irish people's right to self-determination.
But, in a tone which brought little comfort to those who believe Sinn Fein has recently softened its line, he went on to make eight separate denunciations of partition. He said Britain had no right to dictate how self- determination could be exercised.
He introduced a new concept of 'maximum consent', which appeared to mean a recognition of limited rights for Unionists. But he insisted that partition and what he described as the loyalist veto - by which he appeared to mean the right of Unionists to stay out of a united Ireland - were a recipe for further conflict.
It was the latest in a round of public exchanges in the Ulster peace process, which earlier had seen John Major accusing Sinn Fein of using increasingly desperate delaying tactics 'to avoid facing up to the clear choice that confronts them'.
His accusation, in an article in a the Belfast Newsletter, a Protestant newspaper, follows close upon moves by Downing Street yesterday to avert a row with Dublin over a call by the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, for 'demilitarisation' of the conflict.
Mr Major declined to join Unionists in condemning Mr Reynolds for using the words 'demilitarisation' and 'persuaders', both terms generally associated with Sinn Fein. But the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, quietly repeated that the Government would not seek to persuade Unionists of the merits of a united Ireland.
The Prime Minister continued trying to reassure Unionists with his Newsletter article, in which he said he would never be a 'persuader'.
Mr Reynolds addressed himself to the republican community by declaring: 'The peace declaration . . . makes clear that both governments and both communities will become persuaders for a new agreement on the future of the whole island. The time has come to start the process of demilitarisation of the northern conflict.'
Unionists denounced his words as 'Provo-speak'.
However, as Downing Street acknowledged, the Taoiseach was clearly using the word 'demilitarisation' to signify not British withdrawal but a run-down of British Army activity on the streets in the event of a cessation of IRA violence.
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