Rank and file left in confusion over next move

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The Independent Online
Two days of Delphic platform speeches to the Sinn Fein ard fheis did little to dispel what Gerry Adams, the party president, acknowledged was the "understandable confusion and apprehension" among the rank and file over the next steps.

Sinn Fein stood at a crossroads, all agreed. One road was war, and few speakers so much as alluded to this. Almost praying for the peace process to be put "back on the tracks", Marie Moore, from Belfast, said women would be looking at their husbands and sons and "what may be in front of them".

Most of the 800 or so delegates plainly preferred the political road but were angry at the barriers they believe John Major has placed across it. One after another, they declared Sinn Fein had "no fear of elections" but the party was "implacably opposed" to a Unionist dominated assembly at Stormont.

Echoing the party president yesterday, Martin McGuinness, a leading Sinn Feiner, said: "Our preference is for non-participation in both the elections and the elected body." But he indicated that unless the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party agreed to a joint boycott of the elections, Sinn Fein was ready to participate.

Fra McCann, a councillor from the Lower Falls in Belfast, was cheered when he urged the leadership to make a decision as soon as possible so that the party could maximise its vote.

Paul Cassidy from Westport, Co Mayo, wanted the party to contest the 30 May election on an abstentionist ticket. "We need to be seen not to be afraid of seeking an electoral mandate," he said.

After a lengthy standing ovation, Mr Adams opened his hour-long address by reminding delegates that they were in the very Rotunda hall where the Irish volunteers was founded in 1913. In 1905, the Rotunda saw the founding of Sinn Fein.

Mr Adams said it was a time for clear heads and steady nerves. "It is my firm conviction that we will get a peace settlement but I cannot say when this will happen or whether indeed it can happen under the present administrations."

He said Mr Major's "elective process" provided more evidence of his concern to stay in power and of the protracted effort to subvert a meaningful restoration of the peace process. "John Major has said that he will move on, and the peace process will move on, without Sinn Fein. John Major is kidding no one. John Major knows that the peace process is going nowhere without Sinn Fein."

Delegates' views

"If you don't have a [Dublin] government giving leadership to nationalists then I don't think it can come together." Dublin delegate playing down chances of an early resumption of the IRA ceasefire.

"This is like a chess game. We're trying to gauge what the moves will be 12 moves on from now." Sinn Fein executive member.

"There's no trust at the moment. You cannot get a settlement unless there is trust. If there is no trust there is no confidence." Co Meath delegate unconvinced of Unionist readiness to negotiate.