Sinn Fein stays silent on rescue package for Good Friday pact

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The Independent Online

Sinn Fein coyly reserved its position yesterday on the London-Dublin package aimed at rescuing the Good Friday Agreement and said that it would not give a definitive response until the Government published a particular series of documents.

A party delegation will meet the Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, this morning. But with no date set for the publication of the documents, which cover policing and the criminal justice system, a final republican response seem some distance away.

This makes a positive IRA statement on the arms issue in return for government moves on policing and demilitarisation much less likely.

For the moment, the organisation will probably take the Sinn Fein stance that it needs more information and more commitments.

All this will make for a difficult schedule next week. The British and Irish Governments have said they want responses by Monday, but David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party will not meet until Monday night.

The absence of an IRA arms move by then means that the party is bound to stick to its position that it will not go into government. Next weekend represents the legal deadline by which the Government must suspend the assembly or call fresh elections.

Emerging from a lengthy meeting of his party executive in the Irish Republic yesterday, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, refrained from denouncing the document. He said that the proposals provided a basis for further progress if the Government had the will to proceed.

He said his party would insist on seeing the Government's revised implementation plan on policing, the legislative amendments to the Policing Act and new proposals on the justice system. He declared: "The Government's proposals are shot on time-frames, dates and completion deadlines."

The Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey described plans for sweeping reforms of the RUC as "an absolute nonsense" in the present climate of violence. He headed a delegation which was briefed on policing plans. After the briefing, he said: "It isn't a question of whether it is good news for Unionists. It is a question of whether we still have effective policing in Northern Ireland."

Other parties were also briefed on the policing proposals, but it is believed that they were not given actual copies of the documents.