Sinn Fein shuns chance of peace

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The Independent Online
SINN FEIN yesterday put paid to seven months of hope for an early end to violence in Northern Ireland by refusing to endorse key provisions of the Downing Street Declaration, or to seek an IRA ceasefire.

After a day-long conference in a Co Donegal hotel, almost all of it behind closed doors, the party expressed dissatisfaction with the declaration's provisions on Irish self-determination, and what it claims is an in-built Unionist veto.

The rejection was met with widespread condemnation. 'The failure by Sinn Fein to call upon the IRA to stop killing Irish men and women means they have lost this chance to bring peace to Ireland,' said

the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Kevin McNamara.

Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said his party's early rejection of the declaration was now vindicated.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: 'The only thing the people of Ireland want to hear is that violence is at an end for good. Failing that Sinn Fein continues to exclude themselves from shaping the political future of Northern Ireland.'

However, in what Dublin officials emphasised was an initial reaction pending detailed analysis of the statements made and resolutions passed, Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, said: 'Some positive signals have emanated from the convention.'

But he added: 'The Irish people are impatient for peace . . . The two governments will continue to work on a framework that will encourage the restart of political negotiation and, as has been the case over recent months, will not be waiting on any decisions by paramilitary organisations.'

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said last night he remained optimistic about peace. He appeared to link movement towards an IRA ceasefire with a demand for a British concession that would prevent any settlement being subject to a Unionist veto. 'We are not the IRA, but we have helped to formulate proposals which have been enough to move the IRA to say that 'if the political will exists it could provide the basis for peace'.'

Mr Adams made what amounted to a direct appeal to the Irish government not to leave republicans out in the cold. He praised Dublin's 'positive role' in helping secure clarification of the declaration by Britain and said 'The broad unity of nationalist Ireland must be harnessed' if a settlement was to be achieved. He added, however, that 'Sinn Fein cannot do that alone, nor is it solely our responsibility'.

The conference failed to unlock the impasse over the difference between Sinn Fein's definition of consent and the version endorsed by the British and Irish governments last December. Both governments insist a peace settlement must be tied to the consent of a majority in both North and South.

Mr Adams said London had to accept its responsibility to create the conditions for an acceptable form of self-determination. 'It has the real power to change this situation.'

He admitted that 'wrongs' had been inflicted upon Unionists by republicans, and that there was 'a need to heal the wounds'. But he exhorted the Unionist leadership 'to lead its people forward, independent of the veto, which can be at any time taken from them by the London government'.

Mr Adams's closing remarks calling for demilitarisation on all sides drew sustained applause. It was not only a matter for republicans, he said. 'Indeed the British government representing the political wing of the largest armed faction in our country, has the central responsibility.'

Countering speculation about a split over the peace process, leadership speakers stressed the unity of the movement. A team of so-called 'trainers' is reported to have visited IRA units to 'educate' them about the Sinn Fein peace strategy.

The conference unanimously endorsed a document showing 'negative and contradictory elements' in the declaration.