Talks to go on despite SF fury over IMC report

The review of the Good Friday Agreement will reconvene in Belfast on Tuesday as fresh efforts are being made to continue peace efforts following the devastating report of the Independent Monitoring Commission on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams led a party delegation in a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair today.

“The political process in Ireland is in deep crisis,” said Mr Adams, who said the discussion was “very frank”. He said they had told the British Prime Minister that “we totally and absolutely reject and resent the effort by the two governments to penalise and discriminate against our party through the IMC Report”.

In relation to current difficulties in the peace process, Mr. Adams said “The cancellation of talks planned for next week is a mistake. We have been arguing for a short sharp focused approach and in our view there is now going to be a period of intense contact between us on all of these matters.”

“But no government is infallible and its actions and inactions can make a bad situation worse. In our view the peace process is at that point.

“It may be that other government priorities have contributed to a lack of focus. It may be that both governments are busy on other priorities.

“Whatever the case there can be nothing more important than completing the peace process. We have not lost our commitment. But others have to keep both their focus and commitments.”

On this issue of the IMC, Mr Adams said, he believed there was “profound disagreement” between his party and the British Prime Minister.

He added: “Those who think that imposing penalties or sanctions is any help in the process are either just totally and absolutely thick, don’t care, have learnt nothing of how this process was put together, are not watching what is happening in the Middle East or other conflict situations.”

Mr Adams said his party would send representatives to the forthcoming review of the Good Friday Agreement.

But he added: “The review is about housekeeping. It will not resolve these issues. The issues will only be resolved by getting back to the situation where there is a sustainable process of change, where people have some confidence that politics is working, and where all of us treat each other with respect and under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Last night, Blair insisted that Sinn Féin must end any paramilitary connection if it aspires to government. He defended the commission and claimed the IRA was the sole block to a return to devolution.

The IMC recommended financial penalties against Sinn Féin and the Progressive Unionist Party because of IRA and UVF activity, respectively. A clearly dissatisfied Mr Adams yesterday described the four-member IMC as “a collection of spies, spooks, retired civil servants and failed politicians”.

Mr Blair, however, said the IMC would have significant future involvement in the political process.

“It is going to play a central role because people in Northern Ireland, and indeed in the Republic of Ireland, can see the full extent of paramilitary activity and can recognise therefore the justice of the demand being made by the British and Irish governments, and all the other political parties in Northern Ireland, that anybody who wants to be a part of the government of Northern Ireland has to be clean from any association with paramilitary activity of whatever sort.”

Mr Adams has directed most of his anger at the Dublin government.

“There are some who think that there is a case of going with the flow on these matters. It is not. It is a matter of political principle. And for that reason I have been publicly very, very critical of the Irish Government,” he said.

He added that the defence of the IMC report by the nationalist SDLP was “disgraceful, as are that party leadership’s assurances to Mr Blair that Tuesday’s publication of the report ‘had the potential to be a good day for the peace process’“.

Despite Sinn Féin’s fury, Irish and British officials have been looking at the bright side.

Following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on Wednesday, British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy claimed that “the governments are not standing still, the process is not standing still”.

Dublin’s minister for foreign affairs, Brian Cowen, also said both governments were committed to “driving forward” the Good Friday Agreement.

In a joint communique the governments said they had reviewed political developments including the publication of the IMC report.

The statement emphasised that “the political process cannot flourish while the threat of paramilitarism persists and that stable politics in Northern Ireland requires the completion of the transition to exclusively peaceful and democratic means”.

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