People unite behind call for return to ceasefire

Peace process in crisis: White ribbons symbolise spirit of unity on both sides of Irish border
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The Independent Online


Rallies calling for the restoration of the IRA ceasefire were held on both sides of the Irish border yesterday as thousands responded to the appeal from Irish foreign minister Dick Spring to demonstrate support for peace by wearing white ribbons.

A minute's silence at 12.30pm was supported by in workplaces and schools, and observed by radio and television stations which interrupted programmes.

Mr Spring himself was among those handing out the ribbons at St Stephens Green in the centre of Dublin. He said the past week had been "one of the darkest times in the lives of all those who care about Ireland."

White ribbons will be worn by the Irish rugby team, which has traditionally included players from both sides of the border, for today's international against France in Paris.

Rallies were also held in Belfast, Lurgan, Armagh and Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, and in Galway and Limerick in the Irish Republic. They were sponsored by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The rallies came as a newspaper published an all-Ireland opinion poll of 1,923 voters which found strong support for all-party talks, even before any reinstatement of the IRA ceasefire.

The poll, carried out on Wednesday by Irish Marketing Surveys and sister company Ulster Marketing Surveys for the Irish Independent, found 85 per cent in the South backed talks, compared with 56 in favour in the North, where 38 per cent opposed the proposition.

The findings give strong support for the arguments of the SDLP leader John Hume, who this week called for referendums on both issues, North and South, to give all sides a mandate to enter talks.

There were also contrasting answers to the question "Do you believe the IRA was justified in ending the ceasefire ?" In the South frustration with the series of delays in opening talks apparently fuelled a yes response from 23 per cent of voters, with 69 per cent believing it was not justified. In Northern Ireland 81 per cent said the IRA was not justified, with just 12 per cent saying it was.

Proximity talks, proposed by Dublin to facilitate later face-to-face all-party talks, were backed by 79 per cent in the South and 67 per cent in the North.

Other findings showed 55 per cent in Northern Ireland believed arms must be decommissioned before all-party talks begin, compared with 38 per cent in the South.

Irish government officials yesterday met Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and vice-president Pat Doherty at an undisclosed location to ask how the IRA ceasefire may be restored.

After the talks, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the peace process could be restored, but only if Britain called for the start of substantive dialogue involving all sides.

He said he was not reluctant to go back to the IRA and give his evaluation and assessment of the situation. He said: "I think the process has to be restored. It is a matter of how and when."

The planned summit between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach aimed at giving renewed momentum to the peace process is to take place in London in 10 days on Monday or Tuesday week, according to Government sources in Dublin.