Sinn Fein has accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of pandering to rejectionist unionists after he said that he does not expect Ian Paisley's DUP to share power with Sinn Fein without the IRA verifying it is ceasing activity.

While acknowledging Sinn Fein was committed to making the peace process work and had ``come a long way'', Mr Blair said in a media briefingg: ``We can't have a situation where people are expected to sit in government with political parties attached to active paramilitary organisations.

``That is precisely the reason why we have not had a functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland because we have not been satisfied about that.''

Mr Blair's statement marks a further departure by the British government from the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and Sinn Fein now believes Blair is intent on breaking his government's peace process commitments.

Party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin, speaking during a visit to Waterford, said the British government had shown ``blatant bad faith''.

``The reality is that on October 21st last year the British government was party to an agreed sequence of events that would have seen a functioning executive quickly established,'' he said.

``Sinn Fein, the British and Irish Governments and the Ulster Unionists had, after negotiations, agreed and exchanged in advance what were to be our respective public positions. Only Sinn Fein and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence. The positions agreed by others were then put on hold by the decision of Mr Trimble.

``The UUP walked away from that agreement. Because of that the British are now asking more of republicans. This is blatant bad faith.

``It is quite evident that the British government has once again shifted the goal posts, and to the applause of rejectionist unionism.``

In a testy response to Blair's latest policy shift, Mr McLaughlin said the behaviour of the British government seriously eroded ``what little confidence and trust'' there was in the process.

It had made resolving the current difficulties more difficult, he said.

``Mr Blair seeks to disingenuously place the onus for progress solely on unionists and republicans,'' the Sinn Fein chairman continued.

``However hard he tries, he cannot absolve himself or his government from the current mess.

``It is British Government strategy and its tactical approach to the implementation of the Agreement, which has encouraged rejectionist unionism.

``Whatever responsibilities rest with Sinn Fein and the unionists the primary responsibility at this time rests on the two governments but particularly the British Government.

``It is intolerable that the British Government has failed to fulfil their obligations. Progress is dependent on this.

``Confidence and trust is dependent on this.''

Blair's comments followed a keynote speech by Gerry Adams at St Malachy's College in Belfast yesterday. In his analysis of the current situation, Mr Adams said that after 10 years of cessations, the question of beating, splitting or humiliating the IRA should no longer be an issue.

Unless, Mr Adams said, that no value was placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process.

Mr Adams questioned whether Sinn Fein's peace strategy and their contribution to the process, which included their efforts to bring an end of physical force, was to be set aside. He claimed that ``the IRA was not defeated'' and blamed the problems in the peace process on the power and influence of the British `securocrats' -- military and security chiefs who seek the public humiliation of the mainstream IRA.

The West Belfast MP said republicans were not exempt from criticism and that on a number of occasions he had acknowledged this in a very public way.

``But sometimes I have to say that some of this criticism is without foundation.

``It gives succour to those who claim that no matter what republicans do it will not be enough.

``There is criticism, for example, of what is referred to as a lack of transparency on the IRA's acts of putting arms beyond use.

``This criticism ignores the enormity of this issue for the IRA and its support base.

``But more importantly it ignores the Good Friday Agreement position on weapons and the role of the IICD [international arms body].

``It also ignores the issue of other weapons in use in the hands of unionist paramilitaries and British state forces, as against the IRA's silenced arms.

``And it ignores the lengths to which the British system has gone to protect their state agencies, which put guns into the hands of unionist paramilitaries.''

Mr Adams also said that he stood over the speech he made on ctober 21st, despite the fact that the Ulster Unionists and the two governments subseqbetly reneged on their commitments.

``I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position.''

  • Sinn Fein was interviewed today by a new commission set up to monitor paramilitary activity and punish associated political parties.

    An SF spokesman said it would use the meeting with the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) to explain its opposition to the body, which was set up in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

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