Adams hints at route to Ulster breakthrough

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Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams signalled that an end to the dispute over IRA decommissioning was possible if unionists were prepared to move off their "no guns, no government" stance.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams signalled that an end to the dispute over IRA decommissioning was possible if unionists were prepared to move off their "no guns, no government" stance.

In what was being interpreted by some as a positive statement at the start of a critical week for Senator George Mitchell's review of the Good Friday Agreement's progress, Mr Adams claimed unionists must show flexibility on the arms issue to make it succeed.

The West Belfast MP said the gap between unionists and republicans would not be bridged if unionists maintained their demand for IRA disarmament as the entry price for Sinn Fein's participation in a devolved executive at Stormont.

"Their demand is outside the terms of the agreement," he said.

"Sinn Fein would not be dogmatic on this point if there was some way of meeting the UUP's demand.

"The reality is that the UUP's position is not do-able and their project is not helped by their rejection over the last year-and-a-half of a series of efforts by us to resolve this matter on their terms."

Mr Adams claimed nationalists were "losing confidence" in the peace process but he acknowledged that unionist faith in the agreement had also been dented.Republicans, he said, would have to address their concerns "in a spirit of respect and goodwill".

He commended those in loyalism and the UUP who were "making the effort to engage through dialogue", but claimed they were being obstructed by other unionists who had "concluded that it would be better to dig in rather than negotiate".

He added: "We recognise the fears of the unionist section of our people. We want to make peace with you. We want to share the island of Ireland with you on a democratic and equal basis.

"We want to see a pluralist Ireland which recognises and celebrates the diversity of all of the people of the island.

"We take no comfort from the fact that you live in fear about the future. We want to play our part in removing those fears through dialogue and agreement."The West Belfast MP also acknowledged the hurt and suffering republicans had inflicted on unionists.

"I regret this," Mr Adams said, adding that it would be a "huge tragedy" if the Mitchell review were to fail.

The statement was welcomed by senior SDLP negotiator Sean Farren, who said it was "couched in language that expresses a desire to reach an accommodation by acknowledging unionist fears and concerns".

"His statement goes further than many previous Sinn Fein statements," the North Antrim nationalist Assemblyman said.

"What the whole community ÿ not just the unionist community ÿ needs is reassurance that politically motivated violence is over, done with and gone forever and that the Good Friday agreement will be implemented in full."

Mr Farren said pro-agreement parties in the review must reassure each other about the formation of an inclusive executive and how decommissioning could be progressed.

The Sinn Fein president's comments were described as "intriguing" by Progressive Unionist Party Assemblyman David Ervine, whose party called on Mr Adams at its conference yesterday to declare the republican movement's war was over.

The loyalist politician told PA News: "Obviously I have only heard of this second hand and would like some time to study his full statement My initial reaction is that it is not insignificant.

"I think it is to a degree a response to what was said at our conference yesterday. We will be looking to the Sinn Fein president to give us ÿ to use an oft-used word in this process ÿ some clarification."

Mr Adams' statement came amid renewed speculation that the review will return again either tomorrow or Tuesday to a number of talks locations in London, with little or no contact with the media.

Sources taking part in the review believe the discussions between the parties and Mr Mitchell will follow a similar pattern as last week, with Sinn Fein and the UUP travelling ahead of the others for intensive negotiations.

The Sinn Fein leader's comments followed an appeal from Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern for Northern Ireland's politicians to show "moral courage, leadership and responsibility".

Mr Ahern told members of his Fianna Fail party at Bodenstown, Co Kildare, that Belfast and Northern Ireland stood "tantalisingly" on the brink of a major political transformation.

The change would move Northern Ireland in one leap from a place where democracy had not functioned, to one with one of the most innovative and inclusive democratic systems in the world, he told the Wolfe Tone commemoration.

But he also attacked those campaigning against the political deal endorsed in a referendum 17 months ago.

"Democracy is, above all, about implementing the declared will of the people," he said.

"It would be inconceivable, for example, in any developed society after a general election that there would be a refusal by a defeated party, to accept and honour the outcome.

"Immense damage will be done if those opposed, not just to the agreement but to implementing the overwhelming will of the people, north and south, were to succeed in frustrating democracy."

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