26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Dublin on Thursday as problems mount ahead of discussions on the possible implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Their meeting will take place the day before the two governments expect to consider an official report on the level of IRA activity since the Provisional IRA unilaterally disarmed last year.
The “Independent Monitoring Commission” collates information from British Crown sources on the actions of the IRA, with a view to the imposition of “sanctions” against Sinn Féin. Criticism of the IRA in the IMC report could provide key political cover for unionists as they seek to back away from sharing power with Sinn Féin.
The Dublin government is expected to publicly emphasise the positive aspects of the report and to dispute allegations of IRA criminality.
The Provisional IRA called an end to its armed struggle and announced an end to related activities in a historic statement last July. However, there have been claims by senior PSNI policemen that the organisation is still engaged in “illegal activities”.
Last week, the PSNI and the two governments engaged in public squabbling over the matter.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kincaid last week told the Policing Board that the IRA was still active, essentially contradicting a statement by British minister Shaun Woodward.
Bertie Ahern, speaking in India, rejected Kincaid’s analysis, alleging that PSNI Chief Hugh Orde, ‘the most senior police officer’, had given him a different view.
At the weekend, PSNI Chief Hugh Orde flatly contradicted Ahern and backed his assistant.
“He [Kincaid] has given an assessment in a confidential briefing and we are awaiting the IMC report,” said Orde. “We have given our evidence to the IMC. When the report is published people will be able to form their own assessment.”
The chief constable was speaking at Ulster Unionist Party headquarters in east Belfast, where he was addressing a meeting of young unionists.
Despite mounting political uncertainty, Ahern and Blair are still hoping to work towards major inter-party negotiations at a series of meetings, the first of which is planned for February 6th.
“They will review the current position in the peace process, and will focus on the remaining issues that need to be addressed to bring about the full restoration of the democratic institutions of the Good Friday agreement,” said a statement out of Dublin.
“In that context, they are also expected to emphasise the need for all of the parties to engage intensively in the coming months, beginning with the talks scheduled by the two governments for early February.”
However, some twelve years after the IRA declared a ceasefire, Ian Paisley’s DUP is still refusing to hold direct talks with Sinn Féin. Republicans have grown sceptical of the willingness of unionists to respond to IRA initiatives. In addition, Sinn Féin has been strongly dismissive of propogandised reports of IRA activity, which are based on briefings by the hostile PSNI.
Sinn Féin has called for an end to the deadlock in Northern Ireland politics and said it was time the DUP joined the party in a local devolved power-sharing administration.
Party president Gerry Adams described the current impasse as “farcical” and warned that the political institutions and the Good Friday Agreement faced a decisive year.
He said the IRA’s decision to end its armed struggle had created the conditions to move the peace process forward and end British Direct Rule in the country.
Mr Adams said: “Sinn Féin is ready for progress and ready for the challenge of serving in Government with the DUP.
“We have told the Governments that republican initiatives have created new conditions for progress and that the onus is now on them to advance the process and re-establish the political institutions.”
Speaking before a special meeting of the party’s leadership in Dublin, Mr Aams said it was unacceptable that the current Belfast assembly, which was elected in November 2003, had never met.
Mr Adams added: “The stalemate cannot continue.
“There needs to be a genuine effort to end it in the months ahead.
“2006 will be a make-or-break year for the institutions and the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Adams identified talks next month as an opportunity to build a platform for progress.
He said: “It is time to end the obscenity of British Direct Rule.
“All other issues aside, the cost of British Ministers running the north is too high in terms of jobs lost, increasing poverty, rising energy costs, incompetence and inefficiency.
“Consequently, the Irish government needs to ensure that the talks in February are about the speedy restoration of the political institutions and the implementation of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Outlining the way ahead, the Sinn Féin President called for:
* An end to the illegal suspension of the institutions imposed by the British government in October 2002.
* The triggering of the d’Hondt mechanism for electing the Executive.
* Agreement by the DUP to take up their seats in an Executive along with other mandated parties
* Substantive progress on outstanding aspects of the Agreement including demilitarisation, equality and human rights issues
* The conclusion of the debate on policing
* Northern representation to be brought forward in the Dublin parliament
* Delivery of a peace dividend for the north and border counties
Mr Adams acknowledged the challenges ahead and made reference to the exposure last month of Denis Donaldson, one of his senior aides, as a British agent.
Mr Adams said: “It is obvious that some of the difficulties we have witnessed in recent weeks are the desperate efforts of those who have spent the last fifteen years trying to derail the peace.”
But he added: “Sinn Féin is going into the February discussions determined to make progress and determined that the next few months should see the delivery of the huge expectations of the people of this island.
“They expect political leaders to deliver.
“It’s time we did.”