IRA Supporters Tell U.S.-led Commission: Talks Before Disarmament
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ The IRA will not disarm until its political ally, Sinn Fein, is included in Northern Ireland peace talks, Sinn Fein leaders told a U.S.-led disarmament commission today.
The hearing at Dublin Castle was the highlight of four days of discussions between the commissioners and key figures in Northern Ireland peacemaking efforts.
The panel, led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, was set up after President Clinton visited Britain and Ireland three weeks ago in an effort to prod along peace talks.
``We believe the preconditions to Sinn Fein’s involvement (in negotiations) need to be swept away,″ said Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s senior negotiator. ``We need to get into peace negotiations and we need all of the parties to recognize that it is long past that time.″
McGuinness, a reputed former commander of the Irish Republican Army, spoke before he and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams testified behind closed doors to the three-member commission.
Later, Adams told reporters, ``We were not in there discussing the disposal of IRA weapons.″
He said Britain’s demand that the IRA disarm before talks violated its earlier promise to hold quick peace talks after the IRA unilaterally declared a cease-fire on Sept. 1, 1994.
Britain says the IRA must start disarming to show its cease-fire is permanent.
The IRA and Sinn Fein, which get 11 percent of the Northern Ireland vote, want British rule to end. Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority wants the British to stay and fears a deal with the IRA.
Mitchell and the other commissioners, Canada’s defense chief Gen. John de Chastelain and former Prime Minister Hanni Holkeri of Finland, are to meet with Irish government leaders later today.
They are to recommend by mid-January how to resolve the arms issue, which has stunted progress toward multiparty negotiations since the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries declared truces in 1994.
Critics say the IRA could easily dispose of offensive weapons such as SAM-7 ground-to-air missiles and Semtex commercial explosive, while keeping guns to defend Catholic neighborhoods in the event of a civil war.
But McGuinness said today, ``If we’re going to get into the business of deciding what’s defensive and what’s attacking, then I think we’re going nowhere.″
British soldiers and police killed about 350 people in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1994. The IRA killed more than 1,700, and pro-British groups from Protestant areas killed about 900 people.
The pro-British groups have also refused to begin disarming as the price for negotiations, citing suspicion of the IRA.