Dublin and London in race to rescue deal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A major push will be made to bring the parties in Northern Ireland closer together as the British and Irish governments try to overcome the impasse in the peace process.

After a difficult period in Anglo-Irish relations, London and Dublin appear to have found enough common ground for a joint attempt to narrow the gap between Unionists and republicans on decommissioning.

Sinn Fein produced no new initiatives at yesterday's annual Easter Rising commemorations. None had been expected, however, such gatherings traditionally being occasions for reaffirmations of republican values rather than unsettling innovation.

The rhetorical emphasis was therefore on demanding movement from the British Government and Unionists. Like the other elements in the peace process, Sinn Fein is in the business of keeping its powder dry, in the knowledge that an intense negotiation is anticipated, beginning next week and reaching a climax in the run-up to 22 May.

The British and Irish governments are aware that in political circles and the wider community belief in the eventual success of the peace process is draining away. Few can see how the republican and Unionist positions on decommissioning can be reconciled.

In Dublin, Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness said the Government must take the lead. "If the Good Friday Agreement is to be saved then it is up to Tony Blair and his Government. Never mind the hand of history on his shoulder - the key to the future is in his hand.

"This farce of demanding IRA surrender must stop. If all the guns are to be taken out of Irish politics, and that is an honourable objective, then the only way to do it is to prove politics work. The biggest problem facing the Agreement arises, not from the determination of unionist leaders to destroy it, but from the British Government's failure to defend it."

Mr McGuinness said the suspension of the Belfast assembly and other Good Friday institutions had left a dangerous vacuum which could mean a slide back to violence. "Is everything that we have worked so hard for to be squandered? We now face the possibility that all of the good work of recent years could be undone," he said.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, speaking in Londonderry, said: "The question is not to Sinn Fein about guns, the question is to Tony Blair and the British Government as to whether they have the courage and capacity to unlock the future and to bring about a real beginning for all the people of this island."

More than 40 rallies north and south of the border heard a similarly blunt message from leading Sinn Fein members. IRA representatives read out the republican paramilitary group's Easter statement, published last week, at all the rallies. It does not mention decommissioning but criticises the Government for failing to demilitarise.

The leader of the Church of Ireland, Archbishop Robin Eames, called on politicians to keep trying to solve "seemingly impossible questions." He told Easter worshippers in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh: "The task is immense but no effort should be too great. Time is no longer a luxury in the search for stability. The longer solutions are delayed the greater are the opportunities for those with undemocratic agendas to exert influence on our lives."