Sinn Fein expects no more walkouts

Sources close to the leadership of Sinn Fein predict there will be no more resignations from the party in protest against its involvement in the Irish peace process, writes David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent.

Sinn Fein leaders yesterday expressed confidence that the resignations of a dozen party members in Co Louth in the Irish Republic will not be followed by further walkouts.

They said frustration was widespread at lack of progress in the Stormont multi-party talks, with many complaints that the authorities had not responded quickly enough to the July IRA ceasefire. Activists seem particularly concerned at the allegedly harsh treatment of Pat Martin, a republican prisoner in Britain.

But they added that they did not believe there would be more Louth-style departures. The walkout there, which included some seasoned republican figures, was generally seen as an ominous sign, coinciding as it did with the resignation of two IRA leaders from important posts in the organisation.

Together the two developments are seen as the most serious rift within the republican movement in more than a decade. Since the question in everyone's minds now is whether more departures will follow, the Sinn Fein assessment that these represent isolated episodes will come as a relief to the authorities on both sides of the border.

The British and Irish governments, together with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, have made it clear that they would prefer to deal with a single unified republican movement rather than with a grouping splintered into violent and unpredictable shards. They and most of the other political elements would therefore be dismayed by a serious republican split.

Over the past decade Sinn Fein has managed to bring about a significant increase in its vote both north and south of the border. Many consider that the real surprise is that more have not shown themselves disgruntled with a process which has taken the movement a very long way from the traditional republican approach.

Security sources yesterday did not bear out a claim by David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, that the apparent dissent was "choreographed" and "a carefully scripted operation" designed to increase the leverage of republicans in the talks. He said republicans wanted the Stormont talks to fail and may be preparing to end the IRA ceasefire.

Sinn Fein's chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, said: "We do have difficulties. The peace process itself, this collaboration with all the political forces on this island, isn't seen to be delivering the goods and that's going to cause problems for us all. David Trimble won't engage with all of us to find a negotiated settlement at Stormont."

Meanwhile, Irish police were questioning a man yesterday after explosives and bomb-making equipment were found in a raid on a house in Dublin. Police discovered around 20 kilos of Semtex together with incendiaries and other equipment.

Officers said that the material appeared to have been in place for at least a year.

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