Sinn Fein puts forward McGuinness as minister

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The Independent Online
SINN FEIN'S annual conference in Dublin at the weekend had more of an air of a party waiting to take part in government than that of a revolutionary movement.

The party leadership looked ahead to cabinet seats in a new Northern Ireland administration and, with luck on its side, a place in a future Dublin coalition government.

While there was frustration at what the leaders regard as the slow pace of events, the party nominated two senior members, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun, as ministers in the new Belfast executive. Mr McGuinness, described as "minister designate", told delegates of the relationship being built: he and the party president, Gerry Adams, now spoke to Ulster Unionist leaders in a "cordial and respectful manner".

Partly because Sinn Fein leaders now see themselves as part of a web of relationships, their criticisms of the British Government and Unionists were much more muted than usual. The unremarked presence of a British embassy observer for the first time in living memory marked a conspicuous thawing in the party's relations with London since the Good Friday Agreement.

But strains among republican ranks were highlighted yesterday when the convicted IRA arms and missiles buyer Gerry McGeough spoke. Treating decommissioning demands with scorn, he declared he had not spent a good part of his life "allegedly procuring weapons just so we could hand them over to the very enemy we were trying to use them against".

Recalling the fair wind given by delegates a year ago to the Agreement, Mr McGeough, now at university, said: "Some of [the accord] was as unpalatable as eating sawdust." He added: "We were prepared to bite the bullet, but not to give it away." His words drew the weekend's strongest applause.

Others complained that the Dublin government was abandoning the pan- nationalist consensus, with the Irish MP Caoimhghin O'Caolain warning both prime ministers: "We will not be ignored or taken for granted; we will not see the promises in the Agreement binned." Sinn Fein's chief negotiator. Mr McGuinness, spoke of delegates' frustration at the stalemate in implementing the Agreement. He and Mr Adams urged an early deadline for talks aimed at reaching a deal on decommissioning, the latter suggesting two weeks.

Mr Adams said Sinn Fein had tabled ideas capable of ending the impasse, but said the issue was "too delicate, too fragile" to discuss. "These conversations cannot go on for ever. The governments have to act," he said. But he reassured the 450 delegates and guests in an audience of 2,000 that the party remained "totally committed to the peace process".

The event again exhibited the different world view of Irish republicanism, with Mr Adams castigating London for saying "tons of bombs dropped on the Balkans are acceptable, while we are told the guns of the IRA, while silent, are a threat to peace". Another view came in a Dublin newspaper cartoon that depicted Tony Blair telling Mr Adams how bombing Serbia would restore peace and democracy. Mr Adams replies wearily: "We tried that for 25 years... It doesn't work."