Major vents anger over call for Sinn Fein talks

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The Independent Online


John Major responded sharply yesterday to a call from his Irish opposite number, John Bruton, for the British Government to move towards all-party talks with Sinn Fein, as the rift between London and Dublin widened.

Mr Bruton was handed a note of the angry British response, expressing "dismay and astonishment", before he left the London hotel in which he made the speech on Saturday.

Yesterday morning, Mr Major said: "There is no purpose whatsoever in launching all-party talks until we have a basis that will make sure there is some chance that those all-party talks are likely to succeed."

He said it was not the Irish Prime Minister's fault that "we are not yet in that position, and neither is it the British Government's fault that we are not yet in that position".

Speaking in New Zealand, where he was attending the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, before departing for London, he added: "The problem above all lies with Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein's complete reluctance to tackle the question, even with an international body, of how their arsenal of weapons and explosives are going to be taken out of commission."

Mr Bruton was unrepentant yesterday, although a spokes-man insisted he was not proposing immediate all-party talks, but "preliminary talks involving the two governments and Sinn Fein".

But Mr Bruton, who has so far been guarded and cautious in his public statements, left no doubt that he wanted early action by Britain to advance the peace process.

He urged "early" all-party talks, and dismissed persistent British objections to that development as "comparatively minor in historical terms".

That prompted stinging sarcasm from a British Government spokesman, who pointed to Friday's discovery of 2,000lb of explosives in the Irish Republic, near the border with Northern Ireland. He said the find graphically illustrated why the possession of arms was not merely a minor obstacle.

The find was linked by security forces with the splinter group Republican Sinn Fein (RSF), whose leaders yesterday endorsed attacks on British military targets.

At its weekend conference in Dublin, vice-president Mary Ward said the RSF, which split from Sinn Fein in 1986, endorsed attacks on "the British war machine".

RSF president Ruairi O'Bradaigh said delegates passed a motion endorsing the "right of the Irish people to use whatever degree of controlled and discipline force is necessary in resisting English aggression," condemning "any surrender of arms obtained for the above".

On Friday he said a military wing of RSF, in parallel with Sinn Fein's connection with the IRA, "had not yet emerged," but yesterday said this was not a formal denial that it existed. "It's not our job to announce that," he said.

The RSF claims that since the summer disillusioned Sinn Fein members in Belfast, Dublin and Londonderry have defected to RSF, which has repeatedly denounced the IRA ceasefire as a "surrender".