Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
PDs grab headlines with talks demand

The small Progressive Democrats party has made a bizarre intervention in the northern peace process.

Mary Harney’s party, the junior partners in the 26-County coalition government, declared on Thursday night that they would seek to block a peace deal unless the Provisional IRA make a commitment not to engage in “criminality”.

The PDs claimed the IRA had “failed” to sign up to a no criminality pledge, and this now presented a major obstacle in the talks.

Their Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell has insisted that the IRA commit itself to a specific statement that it “recognised the need to uphold and not to endanger anyone’s personal rights and safety”.

They said that this was the “key issue” for it, and that without the required IRA commitment they would seek to scupper any new agreement.

They indicated that, in particular, the release of the Castlerea 4 -- four Provisional IRA prisoners still held in a County Roscommon jail -- would be blocked. The release of the men, who were controversially refused inclusion in the original 1998 prisoner release program, had been signalled by the Irish Prime Minister as one element of any new deal.

Efforts by the tiny right-wing party to muscle into the talks process have baffled negotiators. The issue has distracted from the continuing efforts to put together a deal in the North before Christmas.

The proposals published on Wednesday have created confusion as they purport to make statements on behalf of others, where in fact the words used were those chosen by both governments. Included in the document was a draft IRA statement to the effect that the IRA would uphold and not endanger the personal rights and safety of others.

A subsequent statement from the IRA published on Thursday, outlining what it was prepared to do as part of a deal, did not include the phrase.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams said last night that the IRA had agreed not to engage in any criminal activity. He said the IRA had instructed its Volunteers not to engage in any kind of activity that would endanger the peace process.

Republicans described the move as a tawdry attempt to gain headlines as the 26-County general election looms closer.

Gerry Adams accused the PDs of being “politically opportunistic”.

Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin accusing Harney’s party of “making politics out of a sensitive issue”, and pointed out the PDs’s poor record on the peace process.

He told Irish radio: “I have great difficulty in finding any time when Michael McDowell and Mary Harney have been helpful to the peace process.”

The PDs’ intervention has also reportedly angered their partners in the coalition government, Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail.

Unionists said it was not a major issue. Ian Paisley’s DUP has denied that the IRA had refused to sign up to a commitment on the matter.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News