Politics: Adams says united Ireland comes later

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The Independent Online
The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, yesterday laid out a hardline republican position, demanding among other things disbandment of the RUC and the release of all prisoners.

But at the same he was unusually explicit in stating openly that Sinn Fein did not expect a united Ireland to emerge from the process which, according to the Government's deadline, is due to reach fruition in May.

Sinn Fein is officially entitled, as of today, to re-enter the Stormont multi-party talks, but is expected to stay away until a meeting between Mr Adams and Tony Blair, which may not happen until Thursday.

In an article in the Ireland on Sunday newspaper, Mr Adams set out a list of demands which he said "transitional arrangements need as a minimum to achieve".

His inventory included all-Ireland bodies exercising significant executive and harmonising powers with no limit on the nature of extent of their functions.

These should have a remit which would include policing, human rights and the justice system, with an all-Ireland human- rights commission, a bill of rights and an all-Ireland constitutional court.

He made only a glancing reference to the possibility of a new assembly in Northern Ireland, doing so to specify that the proposed all-Ireland bodies should be "immune from its veto."

One of the article's central messages appeared to be that any settlement should not close the road to eventual Irish unity but rather contain the potential to advance towards that aspiration. It was dismissed by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who, describing it as a republican wish-list, said Sinn Fein's views "are not serious and they are not realistic."

Opinions in other quarters differed on what the article intended to convey. One observer thought it was intended to damage the talks process by demonstrating that the republican agenda set out by it was clearly incompatible with anything Unionists would contemplate.

The unanswered question is how far Sinn Fein is prepared to compromise on its list.

Although the negotiations are entering their final phase in the run-up to May, the demands gave the impression of being more of an opening statement than an unalterable bottom line.

The article does make it very clear, however, that the republicans do not regard the next few months as the period in which a final settlement is worked out. Rather, they view it as just one more phase, albeit an important one, in a process which has many years to run.