Republican sources say privately that the joint declaration last week by John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, will not trigger an end to IRA violence.
Their aim is to try to project the declaration not as the definitive position but as an opening bid in a negotiation. Downing Street gave that short shrift last night, brushing aside any suggestion that there was any point to further talks while violence continued.
Calling for talks at a Belfast press conference yesterday, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said of the declaration: 'It certainly isn't the end. We want to make it the beginning of the end.' Meanwhile, IRA attacks in Ulster and England appear set to continue, though the campaign has been waged with much less intensity in recent weeks. There will be a four-day Christmas ceasefire.
Mr Adams would set no timescale for definitive responses from Sinn Fein or the IRA to the joint governmental initiative, concentrating on arguing that the governments were making contradictory statements on self- determination and the question of releasing prisoners. Contending British governments had often shifted position, he said of the document: 'If there is a gap between what is outlined and what is required, are they saying they aren't going to bridge that gap, that this is it, that this is the sum total, that the peace process is finished? Are they just going to lock us all up and intern us? Of course not.'
Sinn Fein's executive considers the declaration shortly, but Mr Adams cautioned against assuming it would reach a definitive position. He said he had not contacted the IRA.
He was optimistic because Sinn Fein had managed to put the core issues on the agenda and to focus the British government on those issues - 'now whether they've done enough or not is something we'll find out in the future'.
On the key issue of whether the declaration's treatment of self-determination would satisfy republicans, he said: 'Mr Reynolds has said that what is contained in this document is self-determination. I want to know how it is so, how it works and what are the mechanisms for it. When we get that in a definitive way then we come back to that question.'
Mr Adams said there had been no contact with the Government through private channels, and no clarification had been received from Dublin. Downing Street officials said the Government was not contemplating talking to those 'who are engaged in violence or are allied to them'.
The Government continues to say that since there are no political prisoners there can be no amnesty - considered by Mr Adams as vital to any peace process. However, it is widely accepted in Whitehall that discussion - and probably flexibility - on releases would follow an end to violence.
Roger Stott, Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman, said last night: 'What Mr Adams is trying to do is to re-write the joint declaration . . . (it) received overwhelming support in the House of Commons and in the Dail.'
Letters, page 13
IRA at crossroads, page 14