The Guardian March 3, 1999


Northern Ireland:
New impetus to peace process

by Steve Lawton

A fresh impetus to the peace process was achieved when Sinn Fein held their 
first direct talks with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)  something Sinn 
Fein President Gerry Adams has been requesting since 1997. Persistent UUP 
refusals to meet throughout the process leading to the Good Friday 
Agreement, has been the source of much division and delay.

The shadow ministerial report to the Northern Ireland Assembly by First 
Minister David Trimble (UUP) and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon 
(Social Democratic & Labour Party) was broadly supported by Sinn Fein, but 
Gerry Adams pointed out certain areas of disagreement.

Sinn Fein are particularly concerned that, among other things, the Equality 
Agenda  a key plank in their strategy  remains in the hands of the 
Ministers.

Gerry Adams said it was a "negative step" that a separate department is not 
yet being set up. Ten government departments, the North-South Council, 
cross-border bodies, British-Irish Council and civic forum have so far been 
agreed.

The big thorn created by the Unionists that continues to bedevil the 
process is over decommissioning (handover) of IRA weapons.

The Sunday Times interview two weeks ago with Irish Prime Minister 
Bertie Ahern, in which he allegedly suggested that Sinn Fein should be 
excluded from the Executive until IRA decommissioning begins, is part of 
continuing attempts to stall the process.

By the Monday Ahern was denying that he had said Sinn Fein should be 
"barred" and stated clearly that there could be no Executive without Sinn 
Fein.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness graphically illustrated the absurdity of 
expecting the IRA to decommission under present circumstances, by 
displaying a grenade fragment to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly 
which he said had been used by loyalists in an attack upon nationalists in 
his constituency.

He said: "The background to all of [the decommissioning arguments] is 
ongoing attacks by the Red Hand Defenders and Orange Volunteers."

He said that loyalist hardware had been divided up between UVF, UDA and 
Ulster Resistance  the latter associated with Ian Paisley's Democratic 
Unionist Party (DUP).

The pressure, with the March 10 deadline date for transfer of powers from 
Westminster looming, is now on the British Government to follow through on 
the Assembly decisions and to resolve the decommissioning issue before, as 
Gerry Adams warned, the '87 peace process is put seriously at risk.

* * *
New Worker

Back to index page