Republican News · Thursday 4 September 1997

[An Phoblacht]

On the threshold of real talks


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 people.''

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