Pulling the peacemakers together

The bombers must not be allowed to put us back on a war footing, argues Tony Worthington
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The Independent Online
The most startling phrase in Senator George Mitchell's powerful and incisive report of January 24 was the need to "decommission mind-sets". Whatever happens as a consequence of Friday's carnage at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands, we must not put our minds back to a war footing. The peace-makers in London, Belfast and Dublin must pull back together and speak with united purpose.

George Mitchell's six principles must be brought back into play. He said that all participants in all-party talks should give their "total and absolute commitment to these principles". Sinn Fein's leader, Gerry Adams, has criticised the British government for dumping the Mitchell report and has said that he does not "reject" the Mitchell principles.

But Sinn Fein has not given the essential commitment to exclusively peaceful means; to total eventual disarmament of paramilitary organisations to an independent commission; to ending punishment killings and beatings; and to abiding by the outcome of all-party talks. This would give an enormous confidence-building boost to the peace process if it was, as it must be, linked with a renewed ceasefire. Will Sinn Fein accept Senator Mitchell's principles?

The Labour Party has maintained a bipartisan approach to the peace process. All the major steps forward have come from joint approaches. We see the damage that is done by small-minded, short-sighted politics. Progress will not be made by name-calling and obsessive use of history.

In Parliament yesterday, John Major gave the clearest indication yet that if there is broad agreement for it among the Northern Ireland parties, an electoral process would lead directly into all-party talks. These talks must be serious negotiations by manageable all-party teams that tackle all the thorny issues within a tight time-scale. They must not be limited to an internal settlement but also tackle relationships with Ireland and Great Britain - the full three-strand approach.

The concerns of the nationalist community about the elections are genuine and fully understandable given the Stormont past. These fears must be addressed.

Urgent talks must take place with the Irish government because the peace process always suffers when splits appear between the two governments. It is reassuring that there will be a summit next week between John Major and the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton. Mo Mowlam, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, and I will be talking to the Irish government tomorrow in Dublin to help to give the process momentum.

The Irish were clearly bruised by John Major's announcement on elections. But there is surely scope for agreement about how quickly all-party talks could be started and also upon an agenda which must fully reflect Irish concerns.

We are confident from John Bruton's robust response to the Canary Wharf bombing that the Irish government will be leaning heavily on Sinn Fein to reinstate the ceasefire and embrace the Mitchell principles. It is only by acting positively and with a commitment to peace and progress that we can avoid recreating the past.

In Labour's talks with all parties, we have not been filled with despair. We, like Mitchell, believe that both traditions may be less far apart on the resolution of their differences than they believe. The unequivocal condemnation of the Canary Wharf atrocity has been powerful and moving. But it is not enough. The vast majority of peace-loving people must not be thwarted by a few bombers.

The writer is shadow Northern Ireland minister.