McGuinness stands by IRA pledge of peace

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The Independent Online
The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam says the area is edging toward normality. But David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, finds uncertainties and worries persist over the peace process and divisions within the IRA

As the Government confirmed yesterday that Gerry Adams had been invited to Downing Street, Sinn Fein said last night that the IRA was "absolutely committed" to its peace strategy.

Mr Adams was rallying support for his leadership at a mass meeting in Belfast last night. Meanwhile, his party's chief strategist, Martin McGuinness, admitted that recent resignations from the IRA and Sinn Fein were "disappointing".

But he said: "I believe that the IRA are absolutely committed to their peace strategy. They obviously have indicated on a number of occasions over recent years that they too want to contribute to bringing about real negotiations to tackle all of the very difficult issues at the very heart of the conflict."

He told BBC 1's Breakfast With Frost: "I think all informed opinion here in Ireland would disagree that there is a split within the IRA."

Recent resignations were disappointing and did "create difficulties," he said. "But I think that all of us in political leadership recognise that the road to bring about a peace settlement is going to be a rocky, bumpy one.

"There are going to be difficulties and there are going to be problems. But we are absolutely committed to overcoming those difficulties."

He was speaking after renewed speculation of dissent in republican ranks. It has emerged that Bernadette Sands, the sister of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, may have declared herself the unofficial leader of a renegade faction of IRA members.

Mr McGuinness's comments echo the private predictions of senior republicans who say they do not believe large-scale resignations or breakaways are on the cards. At the same time, republicans say there is a distinct undercurrent of disillusionment among their supporters.

They say this stems from two main concerns. The first is the evident lack of movement within the Stormont multi-party talks, while the second is the allegedly tardy pace of the authorities in scaling down security force activities in the light of the IRA's July ceasefire.

The first reduction in troop levels since July took place over the last few days, with 250 paratroopers moving to England.

Dr Mowlam, confirming that Mr Adams was to visit the prime minister at 10 Downing Street, said at the weekend that army patrols were down by 35 per cent overall, adding: "If we don't treat them as if they are serious you are making it much much more likely that they will go back to violence.

"Northern Ireland is edging towards normality. While we cannot let down our guard against splinter group violence, operational steps to match the reduced threat are and will continue to be taken."