Sinn Fein rule out return to ceasefire

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The senior Sinn Fein negotiator Martin McGuinness yesterday came close to ruling out any early resumption of the IRA ceasefire, in terms which appear to preclude the inclusion of his party in the coming political negotiations.

Mr McGuinness's pessimistic words left the firm impression that no ceasefire is to be expected before the British and Irish governments convene inter- party negotiations on 10 July. The Government has made it clear that Sinn Fein will be allowed to the table only if an IRA ceasefire is in place.

Both Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party yesterday announced that they would be contesting the election which is to take place on 30 May. The decisions were expected, since the Government has indicated that only parties which stand in the election will be eligible to join talks.

But it now seems that Sinn Fein will be fighting the election while no ceasefire is in effect, which means its successful candidates will obtain a mandate which is unlikely to impress Unionist parties. The SDLP and the Irish government will be disappointed that Sinn Fein is not to be at the table since they and various other elements believe that talks without republicans will have little value or chance of success.

Some reports said yesterday that the SDLP had also decided to take its seats in the forum which is to be composed of those elected. Party sources said last night that no decision had been taken about entering the forum, whose very existence has been criticised by the party in the recent past.

Mr McGuinness, speaking on the BBC's Newline 6.30 programme, said: "I certainly think at the moment, against the background of British government bad faith, that there is no prospect whatsoever of a restoration of the ceasefire, unless we can be in a position to convince them that we are going to have real and meaningful peace negotiations."

He claimed there was a broad feeling in the nationalist community that the British government and the Unionists "are not serious about negotiating an honest and just settlement". He said that at the moment it was not worth his while to go to the IRA to ask for another ceasefire.

He demanded the removal of all pre-conditions to Sinn Fein involvement in talks and revealed that the ceasefire of August 1994 was never permanent, it was a complete cessation which could only have been made permanent through dialogue between the British and Irish governments and all the political parties.

"I think that this was a point that was missed during the whole course of the ceasefire."