Sinn Fein leader blames peace deadlock on fear of change

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The Independent Online

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told supporters that the Northern Ireland peace accord is in jeopardy, but said there has been significant progress even if the agreement isn't implemented.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told supporters that the Northern Ireland peace accord is in jeopardy, but said there has been significant progress even if the agreement isn't implemented.

"There has been a better atmosphere, there has been more listening, more intelligent talking," he said of negotiations that led up to the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, and subsequent discussions about implementing it.

He also said that Sinn Fein's primary goal - the eventual unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland - remains unchanged.

Likening the old relationship between Irish nationalists and unionists to the system of apartheid in South Africa, Adams said there are those who would rather live in the narrowness of bigotry than in a free society.

Opponents, he said, should recognize that "nationalists in Ireland are never again going to sit on the back of the bus."

And although there has been progress, he added that the peace process is at a critical stage.

"The Good Friday agreement was a hard-negotiated document, and it isn't worth more than the paper it is written on if it is not implemented," he told about 1,000 donors at a dlrs 500-a-plate Sinn Fein fundraiser in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Adams was in the city for a brief 24-hour visit during a break in a peace review being led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who is trying to salvage the 1998 peace agreement he helped broker.

The agreement authorized a Protestant-Catholic partnership to govern Northern Ireland, with two of 12 slots being allotted to Sinn Fein, the political party representing the Irish Republican Army. But the accord is in jeopardy over the Ulster Unionists' insistence that the IRA disarm by May of 2000. The UUP represent much of Northern Ireland's British Protestant majority.

Speaking at a news conference before Wednesday's dinner, Adams expressed both hope and doubt over the process.

"I think we have to face up to the reality that the Mitchell review will shortly come to a conclusion," he said. "And while hope remains that there will be a breakthrough ... we also have to face up to the reality that there might not be."

He said his party has tried to be creative, and put forth different proposals to advance the process, but all have been rejected.

"The biggest fear that I think is gripping unionism - and some of them will resent me saying this - is the fear of change," he said. "But the reality is that there has to be some."

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