IRA Truce Under Strain As Britain, Sinn Fein Dig Separate Trenches
Jun. 19, 1995
LONDON (AP) _ Discord between Britain and the Irish Republican Army's political allies has mired Northern Ireland peace talks and put the IRA's 10-month-old truce under severe strain.
Britain reaffirmed its determination Monday to disarm the outlawed IRA, its goal in six months of painstaking talks with the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party.
Sinn Fein has responded with increasing stridency: Stop asking us to surrender, it says, and start treating us like a normal political party _ or watch our cease-fire unravel.
Threats to renew violence against British rule of Northern Ireland came last weekend from the two most prominent Sinn Fein figures, party leader Gerry Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness.
But neither camp suggests negotiations have collapsed. Sinn Fein specifically dismissed the idea that it had broken off talks with Britain.
Adams, on a tour of South Africa, and McGuinness, speaking near Dublin at the graveside of an 18th-century rebel leader, said the so-called ``exploratory'' stage of their talks was over. Britain said these talks are principally to lay the ground rules for the handover or destruction of IRA guns and bomb-making materials.
McGuinness, a former IRA commander, on Monday said Britain knew ``there isn't even the remotest possibility'' the IRA would disarm now.
He told the British Broadcasting Corp. that demands for IRA disarmament provided ``a lame excuse to prevent Sinn Fein involvement in all-party talks.''
The longer Britain delays joining Sinn Fein in broader talks with other parties, he said, the more likely that bombings and shootings will resume.
The competing claims _ whether IRA arms ``decommissioning'' must precede multi-party talks or comes as a consequence of those talks _ will be hard to resolve without one side losing face.
Adams, speaking to Irish radio, also said a breakdown could lead to violence. But he added: ``We will, of course, meet the British and meet officials or ministers to move the process forward to all-party talks, which are the clear, sensible way to bring about agreement.''
Michael Ancram, the British government minister overseeing talks with Sinn Fein, said the harder Sinn Fein line offered ``veiled threats and overblown rhetoric'' but didn't change the situation.
He said his negotiations on IRA disarmament weren't stuck and would continue whenever Sinn Fein was ready.
Ancram said the next logical step was the start of ``a credible process of decommissioning of illegally held weapons,'' which could involve U.N. observers overseeing the destruction of weapons stored at secret IRA arms dumps in the Irish Republic.
Ancram last met with McGuinness and other Sinn Fein representatives on May 24.
Since then, Adams has used his first trip to South Africa to stress his demand that his party be treated like other Northern Ireland parties regardless of IRA connections.
Sinn Fein gets about 11 percent of the Northern Ireland vote. It developed strong support in working-class Roman Catholic areas following the 1981 hunger strike by IRA prisoners.