Leading Article: Peace lies in Mr Adams's hands

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The Independent Online
GERRY ADAMS's promise yesterday to give his response to the Anglo-Irish declaration after the European elections marks the end of six months of uncertainty in Ulster. After John Major and Albert Reynolds's meeting at Downing Street last December, Sinn Fein first played for time by asking for 'clarifications' to the agreement, then sought to widen the debate beyond the declaration itself. Now these tactics have been played out, Mr Adams faces the gravest choice of his career.

His first option, which experience suggests will be the more likely outcome, is to reject the declaration outright - and to show its incompatibility with Sinn Fein's demands, perhaps by publishing the records of his meetings with John Hume. In setting his face against the new consensus in London and Dublin, Mr Adams would condemn the republican movement to further decades in the wilderness, postponing a negotiated settlement beyond his own political lifetime.

Such a strategy would disappoint Sinn Fein supporters who are weary of the endless tit-for-tat killings between republicans and loyalists. But it would bind Sinn Fein still closer to the terrorist organisation whose political wing it represents.

Mr Adams's second option is more daring. He could admit that the declaration falls far short of what he wanted, particularly because it rules out the imposition of republican rule over Ulster and asserts the principle that the future of the province must be decided by the popular will of its inhabitants.

Yet Mr Adams could claim a victory of sorts all the same, because the declaration includes an unprecedentedly explicit renunciation by the British Government of any strategic or economic interest in the province. Further, it offers the best chance of a united Ireland. Sinn Fein could therefore respond with a renunciation of its own: henceforth, Mr Adams could declare, republicanism will abandon the bullet in favour of the ballot-box - and will leave violence in all its forms - from bombings to knee- cappings - to criminal elements.

Given the obduracy of the IRA's hard men and the fear among Ulster Catholics of loyalist violence (which has claimed more lives this year than its republican equivalent), such a declaration would certainly split the republican movement. The gamble would be that the immediate increase in violence would be short-lived, and that political support for peace would leave Mr Adams as a respected mainstream politician and the IRA as a rump.

Mr Adams's record does not suggest that he will have the courage to face this choice. His movement's traditional placing of unity above principle is against him. But there is a hope - just a scintilla of hope - that he will make the right decision.