Sinn Fein says it wants talks without threats

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The Independent Online

Ireland Correspondent

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams yesterday spoke out against the use of threats in the Irish peace process, professing his party's commitment to democracy, the accommodation of diversity, and national reconciliation.

Mr Adams's comments were part of a detailed laying-out of the republican position, and he was intent on answering the charge, made by the British Government and by Unionist sources, that allowing Sinn Fein into talks before the IRA made a decommissioning gesture would be tantamount to negotiating with an IRA gun at their heads. He said: "The achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to all violence. Threats... are certainly no part of any talks process in which we will engage."

His remarks were welcomed by nationalist sources, but the British Government remains insistent that inter-party talks can only begin when decommissioning of some of the IRA's weaponry actually takes place.

There is speculation that Mr Major's room for manoeuvre on the issue has been limited by the defection of Conservative MP Alan Howarth to Labour, which effectively cuts the Government's majority in the Commons from nine to seven.

The loss may make the prime minister more inclined to look to the nine Ulster Unionist MPs, with their new leader David Trimble, to help him out of any tight spots. Any weakening of the government stance on decommissioning would greatly displease Mr Trimble.