Reynolds bolsters Anglo-Irish declaration: Irish Prime Minister balances rhetoric to reassure Unionists and nationalists

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The Independent Online
ALBERT REYNOLDS, the Irish Prime Minister, last night moved to stem growing pessimism about the Downing Street declaration's chances of producing a breakthrough, with a vigorous defence of the new climate for consensus he said it had created.

He addressed reservations in both republican and Unionist camps, arguing that the declaration contained the first British acceptance of the right of the Irish people to self-determination. At the same time, the document spelled out that there should be no unity of Ireland unless by the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland.

If accepted and implemented by all, Mr Reynolds told the Irish Association in Dublin Castle, the declaration would 'spell an end to the coercion, or attempted coercion, of either community, whether nationalist or Unionist'.

Appealing for the declaration's general endorsement, Mr Reynolds targeted republican waverers, saying self-determination had already been cited in the Hume-Adams joint statement last April as 'a matter for agreement between the people of Ireland'. But he was careful not to upset the balance struck in the Downing Street document. Reassuring Unionists, he stressed 'acceptance of the principle of consent is central to democracy' and he warned republicans this also meant they could not 'insist that self-determination must have a guaranteed and predetermined outcome'.

Mr Reynolds said the Irish people had no wish to see Britain coercing a 'deeply unwilling' Northern Ireland majority into a united Ireland. But he alluded to republican thinking to back up his case against enforced unity, referring to 1920's republican doctrine that argued 'a policy to force the North into the Free State would not work'.

A key part of the speech addressed to republicans spelt out the bottom line of Britain's revised position. Mr Reynolds said this amounted to a 'rock-solid British guarantee to nationalists' that Britain would uphold a Northern Ireland majority choosing to support a sovereign united Ireland.

Pointedly embracing the language of the republican movement itself, the Taoiseach said the declaration confirmed that 'British imperialist interest in Ireland is dead, even if we still have to resolve some of its legacy.' He also echoed Mr Hume in asserting that acceptance of the declaration required 'moral courage and statesmanship of a high order' from both paramilitary camps. It meant that with an agreed democratic framework 'further resort to the gun' was now wholly out of place. He said the task for the IRA was to 'practise real republicanism and reach out to the other tradition. In today's world there is no absolute sovereignty, and no absolute unity.'