Major given hint of more concessions by Sinn Fein: Downing Street urged to end stalemate over declaration as limited ceasefire begins

SINN FEIN leaders used yesterday's traditional Easter platforms to hint that more republican concessions might be on the way if the British government responded to this week's three-day IRA ceasefire.

With the limited ceasefire due to come into effect at midnight tomorrow both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness called on London to end the present stalemate by agreeing to direct talks with Sinn Fein.

Both used the current republican buzzword - 'potential' - to plant the suggestion that a new situation would result from a decision by John Major to clarify aspects of the Downing Street Declaration.

Mr Major's dismissal of the ceasefire as a cynical exercise has been contradicted by some nationalist leaders. In particular Dr Cahal Daly, the Catholic Primate of All- Ireland, has urged the Government to regard the ceasefire as a genuine effort by the IRA, and to attempt to build on it.

Mr Adams, speaking at a Belfast rally, was at pains to deny that the republican call for clarification was a ploy to get into negotiations. He declared: 'We have questions to ask of London and we require direct dialogue, not protracted deliberations or negotiations.'

There is as yet no public sign of movement from the British side on this demand. The Irish government, which is showing increasing signs of impatience and disillusion with the ability of Mr Adams to deliver the republican movement, has bolstered the British position by refraining from echoing the call from Dr Daly.

Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, said he did not believe direct talks between the British government and Sinn Fein were possible. He said: 'We are very disappointed at the IRA's token gesture. We believe that we have made enormous efforts over the last number of months. I don't see any prospect of a meeting between the British Government and Sinn Fein at this stage.'

A statement from Downing Street reiterated the Government's position: 'What is needed is not a three-day ceasefire, after which the killing would begin again, but a permanent end to violence.'

At the same time, no one knows all of what is going on behind the scenes at this moment. There will almost certainly be surreptitious activity from potential go-betweens anxious to bridge the gap and move the peace process along.

Logistical considerations within the IRA probably preclude an extension of this week's ceasefire, which is scheduled to end at midnight on Friday. Sinn Fein has already made it fairly clear, however, that it accepts that no early London move towards clarification is likely. The impression is being given, however, that a break in the clarification stalemate could create new opportunities.

Mr Adams gave an interesting insight into republican analysis when he declared: 'The British may not yet be planning to leave Ireland. But they will. I am firmly convinced that they can be persuaded to end the union and to do so in a manner which will permit all of the people of Ireland to come to agreement on a new and stable society on this island.'

Because of this, he said, republicans need not be in a defensive mindset, and should seek to maintain the political offensive. If these issues were addressed properly, he said, then substantial progress was possible.

(Photograph omitted)