Cabinet plans response to Sinn Fein: Clarification to Downing Street declaration ruled out in favour of 'dead-pan' reply. Colin Brown and David McKittrick report

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister and senior Cabinet ministers last night decided to reply tomorrow to the IRA demands for clarification of the Downing Street declaration, as the killing in Ulster continued yesterday with two Catholic workmen shot dead.

Ministers said the Government would publish a 'commentary' on the declaration. They insisted that it would not amount to a clarification, but it would put pressure on the IRA to enter the peace process. A statement is expected in the Commons by Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, two Catholic building workers were gunned down as they sat having their lunch on a building site in the Protestant North Queen Street area of Belfast. In the attack, claimed by the Ulster Volunteer Force, the gunmen opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing the two men almost instantly. A third man escaped with cuts.

The RUC later made arrests and recovered firearms. A police officer condemned the killings as blatantly sectarian. The two men, both commuters from rural areas, were easy targets working in a strongly loyalist area. One was a 44-year-old father of five, the other was 24 with one child. Friends denied UVF claims that they were active republicans. SDLP councillor Ignatius Fox said: 'Neither of the two was involved in anything. They were trying to rear their families and do a day's work.'

The Cabinet committee on Northern Ireland is due to continue the work today on the response to a series of questions submitted by Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein. The aim is to answer the questions in a 'dead-pan' manner, without shifting the joint position that Sinn Fein can only enter the talks process after renouncing violence.

'An end to violence is the bottom line. We are not getting involved in negotiations,' one ministerial source said. Ulster Unionists have been assured that it will be a 'one-off' exercise.

Mr Adams said yesterday he was disturbed and concerned at reports that the Government's answers to Sinn Fein's questions would not amount to clarification of the Downing Street declaration.

Mr Adams claimed there was growing concern among nationalists that the Government 'may squander yet another opportunity to advance the peace process'. He called for 'comprehensive, unambiguous and honest' responses.

Neither London nor Dublin believes that the Government's responses stand any change of bringing about a cessation of IRA violence. The prevailing Northern Ireland Office view is that Mr Adams has painted himself into a corner and cannot deliver the republican movement.