On the threshold of real talks
BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA
On Friday 29 August British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam formally
invited Sinn Féin to take part in the talks at Stormont. The
historic announcement came 41 days after the restoration of the
IRA cessation on 20 July.
Finally the moment is coming where Sinn Féin will enter
negotiations on an equal footing with other parties in the search
for a settlement on which lasting peace can be based. It should
have happened three years ago in 1994. Instead the British
Conservative government destroyed the peace process which led in
turn to the ending of the IRA cessation in February 1996. It has
been a long and arduous effort to rebuild that process.
The next step comes on 9 September when a plenary session of the
talks will be held at Stormont. Talks chairperson George Mitchell
will welcome the Sinn Féin delegates and they will be asked to
affirm their ``absolute and total commitment'' to ``democratic and
exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues; to the
total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations; agree that
such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an
independent commission; renounce for themselves, and to oppose
any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to
influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations;
agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party
negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful
methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which
they may disagree; urge that `punishment' killings and beatings
stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.''
The procedure does not involve signing documents.
It remains to be seen whether all or any of the unionist parties
will be there on 9 September for the plenary session. Their
presence on 15 September when substantive negotiations are
scheduled to begin are even more in doubt. Paisley's DUP and
Robert McCartney's UKUP have said they will be staying out. UUP
leader David Trimble reacted to Mowlam's announcement by saying
that the ``republican movement... will revert to violence'' and
people who regarded Mowlam's announcement as historic ``will end
up looking very foolish''.
Three of Trimble's MPs William Thompson (West Tyrone) Willie Ross
(East Derry) and Martin Smyth (South Belfast) have called for a
UUP boycott of the 15 September session. Trimble himself said
that it was a ``rash assumption'' that there would be substantive
talks on that date. Decommissioning would still have to be
agreed, he asserted.
This underlines the tensions and divisions in unionism on the
very eve of all-party talks. Responding to Thompson, Sinn Féin
Vice-President Pat Doherty who stood against him in the
Westminster election in May receiving over 11,000 votes, said his
remarks were ``outdated and reactionary''. They were ``not only a
negation of his duty to those whom he represents , they are a
symptom of unionism's desire to cling to an attitude and outdated
era that is long gone''. Doherty continued:
``Sinn Féin will go into talks as Irish republicans presenting our
analysis that united independent Ireland is the model which will
best serve the interests of Ireland. The unionist and loyalist
parties obviously have a different view. But dialogue hurts
no-one and no party should fear to argue their case.
``In the last number of years Mr Thompson and his unionist
colleagues adopted a pragmatic position and sat down with Sinn
Féin representatives in council chambers across the Six Counties.
In the last year Mr Trimble, Mr Paisley and Mr Thompson and their
colleagues took a decision to sit down and talk with
representatives of loyalism.
``I would therefore appeal to David Trimble to take up his duty
and responsibilities in all of this and accept the demands of his
constituents to come to the negotiations on Septebmer 15th and
find an accomodation which can secure the support of all our