Irish Republican News · March 8, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

An escalating dispute between Sinn Féin and the Dublin government is threatening the already weakened peace process.

The Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has been urged to ``put up or shut up'' after he claimed on Irish radio that senior Sinn Féin members sit on the Provisional IRA Army Council and that other Sinn Féin members have been involved in criminal activity at Dublin Port.

Mr McDowell's comments drew an immediate angry response from Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Mr Martin McGuinness, who called on the Minister to substantiate the claims.

``I am not going to stand by and listen to this rubbish from someone who calls himself an Irish Government Minister,'' Mr McGuinness said. ``I hear him making other allegations and I say to him either put it up or shut it up.

``It's very well to make accusations, but it is a whole other thing to substantiate those allegations. I think Michael McDowell needs to remember that he is the Minister for Justice. He is not the Minister for Judges and he is certainly not the Minister for Juries.''

The bitter war of words between Mr McDowell and Sinn Féin clearly has its roots in the looming European and local elections. Sinn Féin has said it is on course to make significant gains, including the capture of a seat in the European parliament in Dublin and the Six Counties.

In an interview this morning the Minister for Justice said: ``There are senior figures from Sinn Féin on the Army Council and you may take that for a fact. I am talking about household names . . . The Army Council of the IRA dictates the strategy for the whole Provisional movement . . . and it [Sinn Féin] takes its line from the Army Council'', said Mr McDowell.

During the same interview, the Minister for Justice also repeated his analogy of Sinn Féin being like the Nazi party.

``A movement which embraces both violence and the ballot box at the same time is very analogous to the Nazis. I most certainly say that the Provisional Movement of which they are leading figures is having it both ways in relation to violence and crimes.''

He said the Provisional Movement, of which Sinn Féin was a part, had to make a ``clear choice, politics or violence''.

An incandescent Martin McGuinness accused the Dublin minister of being ``anti-working class'' and ``anti-republican''.

Mr McGuinness added that the comments were ``electioneering by a desperate, ignorant and irrational politician''.

There also appeared to be a difference of view between Mr McDowell and the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who said he agreed that the Provisional IRA has been involved in criminality at Dublin Port, but that he was not aware if Sinn Féin members were on the Provisional IRA Army Council.

Mr McDowell's lack of evidence, and the clear absence of charges against any Sinn Féin member, bemused the other opposition parties.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called on the Minister to clarify his claims and queried the contradiction between his claims and the Taoiseach's statement.

Mr Kenny said he had sought a parliamentary debate on the issue on four separate occasions and would do so again this week.

He said Mr McDowell had ``a constitutional duty to act on this or on any other similar activity that he is aware of.''


Meanwhile, amid the war of words, talks to revive the peace process are continuing.

Bertie Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, are to discuss the political deadlock at a meeting in Dublin on Thursday.

The Democratic Unionist Party told British Prime Minister Tony Blair today he must punish Sinn Féin for the recent alleged abduction attempt by the IRA in Belfast.

Speaking after meeting Mr Blair in Downing Street today, DUP leader Ian Paisley said: ``It was our business to put to the prime minister in a very strong manner the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are looking for action on the matter before them of the IRA and their actions on the streets of Belfast.

``Putting this on the long finger to May is not acceptable to us at all.''

Mr Ahern, in a series of media interviews, described Thursday's meeting as ``an important one''.

He said that they had to plan just how they were going to get a working executive and working institutions back in the North.

He told reporters that while things might not happen ``in a week or two'' there could be progress ``in a month or two''.

But it is difficult to see how the process could be revived in the teeth of June's local and European elections on both sides of the border.

Mr Ahern used the Fianna Fail annual conference over the weekend to again call on the Republican Movement to bring about ``the complete retirement of all paramilitary activity''.

He said: ``There can be no halfway house between democracy and violence.''

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that the Taoiseach would be better off facing up to his responsibilities instead of constantly hectoring Irish republicans.

``We are certainly not going to accept lectures from a government that has walked away from its responsibilities in relation to the peace process,'' said McLaughlin.

``The Good Friday Agreement is not some sacred piece of paper to be supported in theory. It is an international Agreement, which was massively endorsed not just by nationalist Ireland, but the vast majority of people in Ireland six years ago and which the two governments are committed to implementing in full.

``But instead of doing this, they have walked away from their commitments, suspended the political institutions, failed to move on equality, human rights, demilitarization, policing, northern representation, Irish language and many other issues.

``We all want the Good Friday Agreement to work, but it will only work if all of those responsible for implementing it face up to their responsibilities and that includes the Irish government.''

  • The nationalist SDLP has chosen the Belfast Mayor Martin Morgan to contest the Six-County constituency for the European Parliament election in June.

    Morgan, a North Belfast councillor and a relative hardliner in the party, won on the third vote at a meeting in Cookstown, County Tyrone, on Saturday.

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