Sinn Fein success puts pressure on IRA

Election result raises hopes of new ceasefire, writes David McKittrick
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The Independent Online
Almost all political attention in Ireland is now focused on the chances of a new IRA ceasefire to allow Sinn Fein to enter the political talks due to open in Belfast next Monday.

Although there are no signs of any IRA decision to renew its ceasefire, the unprecedentedly high Sinn Fein vote in last week's election for representatives to the forum has changed the entire republican landscape. The republicans, like everyone else, were surprised by the extent of their success in taking 15 per cent the vote.

This means that both Sinn Fein and the IRA will be involved in a careful analysis of the significance of the vote and how it has changed the political scene. Most observers agree that it indicated a huge endorsement of the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, and his approach of pursuing a peace process.

This points towards another ceasefire at some stage, but at the moment there are few obvious pointers that this is to be expected before 10 June. Although many will argue that a new ceasefire now will gain Sinn Fein the moral high ground, republican strategists may be more inclined to play a longer game.

The next major development is due tomorrow when the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dick Spring, are to meet in London in an attempt to resolve differences over the shape of next week's talks.

Weekend remarks by Sir Patrick on the timing of the de-commissioning of IRA weaponry have been interpreted as a softening of the Government's line on this contentious issue. Mr Spring yesterday welcomed Sir Patrick's stance, praising it as realistic.

He added: "I believe we have been making progress on decommissioning and can reach agreement on Tuesday. I would hope that we can tie down these matters in a way that will bring all parties to the table. What we need to agree is a format for the talks."

Dublin is also pressing for a major role in the talks for former US Senator, George Mitchell, who headed an international panel which reported on arms decommissioning earlier this year. The Irish government is adamant, however, that Sinn Fein should not be admitted to talks without a new IRA ceasefire.

Sir Patrick's comments drew a strong response from Tory backbencher David Wilshire, who accused him of trying to bribe the IRA with concessions to persuade it to call a ceasefire. He declared: "It is further appeasement. It is yet another attempt to buy off killers and it won't work. We have an election on Thursday and by Saturday we have the white flag hauled up again. It is concession after concession after concession."

Sir Patrick's remarks also drew criticism from Ulster Unionist MP the Rev Martin Smyth, who said the secretary of state should resign if he allowed Sinn Fein into talks without taking a step towards decommissioning.

Another Irish minister, Pronsias de Rossa, said the Sinn Fein vote "strengthened the hand of Gerry Adams and those who want a restoration of the ceasefire to persuade the IRA hardliners that this is what the people want".