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Adams calls for 'freedom charter'

THE SINN Fein president, Gerry Adams, called yesterday for the setting up of an Irish Freedom Charter in an address to several hundred delegates at his party's annual conference in Dublin.

He refrained from either acceptance or outright rejection of the Downing Street Declaration. Mr Adams spoke of serious flaws in the declaration and made it clear he would not be recommending that the IRA halt its violent campaign on the strength of it. But he reiterated Sinn Fein's continuing commitment to a process of peace. That part of his message was reinforced by a new Sinn Fein symbol that incorporates a white dove carrying a tricolour pennant in its beak.

Mr Adams said that a freedom charter might attract broader support than that enjoyed by Sinn Fein itself. He suggested it could be modelled on the freedom charter of the ANC in South Africa with the intention of attracting support from the widest possible range of Irish nationalists.

In an attempt to build on his party's recently improved relations with the Irish government and the SDLP, he was unusually complimentary to constitutional nationalist politicians, in particular the Irish prime minister, Albert Reynolds, and John Hume, leader of the SDLP.

The Sinn Fein president spoke for more than an hour, delivering a 24-page text of some complexity, part of which was clearly designed to reassure Republicans that the Sinn Fein leadership was not engaged in a sell-out. He made many demands of the British government, in particular that it should attempt to convince Unionists that their future lay in a united Ireland.

He called on the British government to withdraw political support from Unionists so that the latter could be 'relieved of the delusions that have sustained them'. Unionists, he said, needed to recognise that they shared a common history with Catholics in the common territory of Ireland. The Downing Street declaration represented a fundamental shift in British policy. In contrast to other approaches it did not seek to ignore Republicanism, but addressed Republicans directly. The British government was not in contact with Sinn Fein but he was convinced contacts would resume.

Repeating the Sinn Fein call for clarification of the declaration, he said it was riddled with ambiguities, contradictions and confusion. The serious flaw in the document was that it sought to interfere with the right to self-determination. It did not mention northern nationalists though it contained numerous references to Unionists. Mr Adams called on Britain to clarify its long-term intentions regarding Ireland. He asked what guarantees there would be that there would be no return to 'bigoted Orange supremacy in northern nationalist communities'.

The devil was in the details, he added: 'The details must be provided if Republicans are to take British protestations of goodwill and good intentions seriously. They are entitled to these details.' The Sinn Fein president said Republicans wanted peace and this generation of Republicans wanted to see the gun taken out of Irish politics forever.

Earlier, Sinn Fein's chairman, Tom Hartley, told the conference that Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and his predecessor, Peter Brooke, supplied Sinn Fein with advance copies of important speeches

to enable a 'considered response'.

He drew a contrast between this 'sensible approach' and that of John Major, whose challenge to Gerry Adams in an article in Friday's Irish News put further pressure on the party for a response to the Downing Street Declaration.

Mr Major should follow the example of his ministerial colleagues, Mr Hartley said in an opening speech to the conference. 'The problem is that he is talking at us.

'He and his government talked for three years to Sinn Fein. Why doesn't he do that now? Is he interested in peace or is he simply interested in a political counter-offensive to the Irish peace initiative?'

More than 1,000 Sinn Fein members and supporters have gathered for the two-day conference in a community hall at Tallaght, a suburban sprawl on the outskirts of Dublin.

Mr Adams and most members of the Sinn Fein executive were sharp-suited. Along the platform was a border of daffodils, heathers and primulas - a distinct 'modernising' from previous years. However, pictures of IRA 'volunteers' killed since the last annual conference were displayed - four this year, including Thomas Begley, a victim of his own bombing of the Shankill Road fish shop.

Jim Gibney, a Belfast member of the executive, declared: 'Sinn Fein is not involved in armed actions. Sinn Fein doesn't plan armed actions.'

The Irish government's lifting of its 23-year broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein and Mr Adams's publicity coup in the United States, together with the declaration, led to heightened media interest in the annual conference.

(Photograph omitted)