Despite Public Opinion, Sinn Fein Takes Hard Line
TALLAGHT, Ireland (AP) _ Peace will come to Northern Ireland only when the British government agrees to give it up and promote Irish unity, Sinn Fein leaders said at their annual party conference Sunday.
It was a return to uncompromising fundamentals for Sinn Fein, the IRA’s allies who have spent months at the center of the Northern Ireland peace debate, and have come under increasing pressure to reject violence.
A poll published in the Sunday Independent newspaper in Dublin indicated that nine out of 10 people in both parts of Ireland want the IRA to end its campaign.
Martin McGuinness, an influential Sinn Fein official, told about 400 cheering supporters in a grubby community center in this Dublin suburb that the British and Irish governments were wrong to treat Northern Ireland - and its pro-British Protestant majority - as legitimate.
″The balance sheet on the northern state argues for change, fundamental change, not renewed efforts at unworkable and unacceptable internal arrangements. ... The partition of Ireland has failed,″ McGuinness said.
The Irish and British governments on Dec. 15 offered Sinn Fein a place in negotiations if the Irish Republican Army first called off its campaign against British rule. More than 3,100 people have been slain in Northern Ireland since 1969, about 1,800 of them by the IRA.
As part of their declaration, British Prime Minister John Major and Irish leader Albert Reynolds said the Irish people had a right to self- determination, but northern Protestants shouldn’t be coerced into a united Ireland. That formula meant any change would require majority support in Northern Ireland, an unacceptable proposition for the Sinn Fein-IRA leadership.
The poll published in the Sunday Independent, based on interviews last week with 1,916 adults in the British-ruled province and in the Irish Republic, found that 91 percent of people both sides of the border want Sinn Fein to renounce IRA violence and enter talks.
It also found that 79 percent of people did not want Ireland united against the wishes of most Northern Ireland residents.
The survey had a margin of error of about 2 percent.
″Naturally you’ll have all those people saying, ‘The IRA should go away.’ Of course people say that to pollsters,″ Sinn Fein chairman Tom Hartley told The Associated Press.
″But if the IRA stopped, would the problem go away? Of course not - because the IRA’s not the problem. British interference in Ireland is the problem.″
Barry McIlduff, a 27-year-old Sinn Fein activist from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, conceded that most Irish people didn’t agree with Sinn Fein’s commitment ″to engage in war for as long as it takes.″
″I’m not claiming that Sinn Fein has an electoral mandate, has majority support at the ballot box. Obviously we don’t,″ he said in an interview. ″It’s the British soldiers in our streets and fields, on Irish soil, that gives us a mandate.″