Sinn Fein to face two-way pressure

JOHN MAJOR and Albert Reynolds are to meet later this month to discuss plans for increasing the pressure on Sinn Fein to accept the Downing Street declaration, it was disclosed last night.

Their meeting will take place on 19 February, five days before the Sinn Fein annual conference in Ireland, which is expected by the two governments to send a signal about the likelihood of a permanent end to the violence.

The two Prime Ministers are expected to agree a strategy for intensifying the pressure on Sinn Fein to accept the Downing Street declaration, including British ideas for devolving powers to local government in Northern Ireland and cross-border boards, which are likely to be published in the run-up to the Sinn Fein conference.

They will both be guests at the England-Ireland rugby international at Twickenham, but are likely to meet at another venue for talks before Mr Reynolds returns to Dublin. The meeting, confirmed by sources in Downing Street and Dublin, was also seen as a sign that Mr Reynolds was running out of patience with Sinn Fein.

The Irish Prime Minister said he wanted a 'decision soon' from the republican movement. In a speech to his Fianna Fail party, he made it clear he believed he had done all he could to meet Sinn Fein demands for clarification of the declaration, which would allow Sinn Fein into the talks with democratic parties, once they had renounced violence.

He told a meeting of his party's European candidates he had provided 'copious clarification' of the document. 'Since such clarification was requested from us, we are entitled to expect that it would be carefully studied and taken into account. Two months after the joint peace declaration, it is time for political realism and a clear decision soon,' Mr Reynolds said.

The Sinn Fein commission considering the Downing Street declaration at the weekend heard a united call from a wide range of nationalist opinion for an immediate IRA ceasefire.

But the representatives from religious, trade union, community and peace groups who addressed the hearing in Dublin were more equivocal on the declaration. More than half the speakers said it offered little while nationalists remained a minority within the Northern Ireland structure, though many saw it as the basis for a broader settlement.

Four soldiers were injured, one seriously, in a mortar attack on an Army and police patrol in west Belfast on Saturday.

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