'They can stick their declaration': Ian MacKinnon finds nationalist opinion in Belfast firmly behind Sinn Fein's response

SOME clothed their opinions in the respectability of reasoned argument. Others were less subtle. But, overwhelmingly, the view along Belfast's mainly-nationalist Falls Road yesterday was that Sinn Fein's move to in effect reject the Downing Street Declaration was correct.

Most felt there had never been any other course open to the IRA's political wing once the thrust of the accord between London and Dublin became known, and so the outcome of Sunday's special conference in Letterkenny came as little surprise.

Had any of the conference delegates been in any doubt beforehand about the nationalist community's sympathies they need only have walked a few yards from the Sinn Fein's advice centre to come across a freshly painted gable-end mural putting it in the clearest terms. Surrounding the Irish tricolour being waved over a crowd scene is the legend: 'Downing St. Declaration. Nationalists Sold Out Once Again'.

A driver of one of the black taxis that ply between the Falls and other nationalist ghettos like Andersonstown and Poleglass had a similar, if less refined, message. 'They can stick their declaration up their arse,' he said. 'I've beat it into the kids: hate all Protestants. We don't want peace, we want the bastards out; on a boat back to Scotland. And when they're on the boat, sink the boat.'

A colleague, 40, echoed some of the sentiments, though with a little more finesse: 'There was nothing in it for the nationalist community. If they'd have accepted it they'd have been giving in. Sure, everybody wants a settlement, but they don't want them to cave in overnight.'

Just along the road, another graffiti artist had immortalised his views in Gaelic, and then added a helpful translation: 'Fiche Blian - Ar Aghaidh Chun Bua. Twenty Five Years - Onward to Victory'.

The victory of a united Ireland, rather than some fudged score draw, is something that quite a few feel is in sight and a key reason why Sinn Fein would have been foolish to have endorsed the declaration. 'The Hume-Adams initiative started it . . .' said one 35-year-old unemployed man. 'There's been more movement in the past year than in the previous 24. If they moved before, they can and will move again.'

But another crucial area of concern for most is that the declaration gives the unionist community a veto over the future of the province. 'This is something that should be up to the Irish people as a whole and the British should have no say in the matter,' one man said. 'But the way it stands at the moment, they just want the nationalists to surrender.'

A few, however, felt that everybody had to give some ground in the cause of peace and that Sinn Fein had missed an opportunity.

'I'm very disappointed,' said Mary Marron, 59, whose son was wounded in a loyalist shooting incident last year. 'I've been disgusted with Sinn Fein for the last while. You can't talk about peace until you stop killing. But here we are in stalemate again. And now the unionists are just laughing up their sleeves, because all along they said: 'Don't talk to Sinn Fein'. Well now the British government doesn't have to.'

Another unemployed man, 50, said that Sinn Fein could easily have called a ceasefire and gone to the negotiating table. 'They should have tried it for six months or a year. The timing is right with the 25th anniversary of troops on the streets coming up. But they would see it as the wrong time. Symbolism's very important . . .'

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