On 20 January 1993, Sinn Fein representatives were questioned at a public meeting. A consistent question from the commission to others who appeared at the hearings, held around the region in January and February, was whether the Government should use informal 'channels of communication' to test the Provisional Republican movement's commitment to the democratic process.
By the time the Opsahl Report was published, it came as no surprise that the commission recommended such informal 'channels of communication'. If you were wondering about the source of that suddenly popular phrase, or the expression used by Irish ministers about bringing the men of violence 'in from the cold', or the idea of giving 'a helping hand over the hurdle of violence', then please read Chapter 6 of the Opsahl Report, entitled 'Sinn Fein and the Paramilitaries: Coming in from the Cold?'.
This draws heavily on a number of submissions and comments at hearings. It also includes a critique of Sinn Fein's analysis of the conflict, and reiterates the need for an end to violence before negotiations or a seat at any conference table could be offered.
Chapter 6 concludes with a comment from a representative of 'the Ulster Democratic Party, which reflects the thinking of the UDA, (who) told the Commission: 'I look forward to the day when they (Sinn Fein) could become involved, but when that happens, they would not be Sinn Fein in its present form, because then they would have become an active constitutional party'.'
In his introduction to the report of the commission, which he chaired, Torkel Opsahl, who sadly died in September, said: 'One thing is clear from the Initiative '92 exercise: the people of Northern Ireland do want dialogue, at every level.' The Opsahl Report contains a number of recommendations for protecting rights and aspirations as well as reducing the democratic deficit. Now is the time for serious dialogue, at every level, about the substance of all known proposals, whether suggested by Opsahl, the two governments or others.