Adams defends Sinn Fein verdict

Click to follow
GERRY ADAMS, the Sinn Fein president, put up a vigorous rearguard action yesterday to try to offset what he claimed was a largely hostile writing-off of his party's weekend soul-searching over the Downing Street Declaration.

His damage-limitation exercise began with a damning of 'spin doctors' in the British media who claimed Sinn Fein had given a wholly negative verdict, asking 'if these people were ever in favour of the peace process'. The Irish reaction too was less than favourable.

Sinn Fein may have accurately reflected the mistrust of the declaration in the eyes of Northern Ireland nationalists unsure of what future it held for them. But many observers who attended the Letterkenny conference came away with a feeling that the party had been rather less successful in gauging what was the absolute minimum required of it by everyone else.

This Republican ghetto vision encouraged Sinn Fein to demands over the tailoring of unionist consent which, the argument went, a longer set of antennae would have told them were unrealistic. James Molyneaux and his Ulster Unionist mainstream colleagues would only stay in touch with the declaration initiative while it gave them a meaningful say.

The fairly certain fact is that granting 32-county self-determination, that blocked from the start a no-vote to any settlement from a Northern Ireland majority, would safely guarantee the unionists' exit from the peace talks.

On the other side there should be no misunderstanding why Sinn Fein leaders such as Pat Doherty, the quietly-spoken vice-president, cannot accept the current declaration proposal of six-county Northern self-determination parallel to another vote in the 26 counties of the South. For him it is an issue of principle that there must be a safety mechanism to stop the political road simply leading backwards to an internal settlement that relives the nightmare of bigoted Stormont misrule.

On this score the weather outlook for compromise offers zero visibility. The consent, self-determination and unionist veto stalemates are going to be long in the unravelling. Sinn Fein would seem to be out in the cold, the pressure from London and Dublin now being entirely and explicitly on the republican movement to offer a major concession.

Yet on another front, both Mr Adams, in public, and, in private, a highly-respected former prisoner known for entertaining new ideas, yesterday hinted at another route with more potential. This, the latter suggested, might see demilitarisation developed as a strategy in its own right that would lead to a political dividend, if the encouragement were given from the two governments and perhaps loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr Adams, in a rare unguarded moment yesterday, said on demilitarisation: 'I have firm ideas on that but they might not be acceptable to others (taken as a reference to the IRA). They might not be acceptable to all of the armed groups.' Such an approach would require 'sensitivity' and careful management, he said. But he was still optimistic of making progress. What he had said on the subject in the conference was 'the result of a very considered view'.

Leading article, page 13

(Photograph omitted)