Britain Prods IRA To Engage in Talks
BRITAIN is prepared to push ahead next month with plans for limited self-government for Northern Ireland without input from Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's political wing, if the IRA fails to abandon violence and join the peace process.
In late May, Mr. Adams said Sinn Fein and the IRA would give a ``definitive response'' to the December 1993 Anglo-Irish statement, known as the Downing Street Declaration, ``after the European Parliament elections.''
The election results were announced on June 12, but in the following days Adams failed to say whether or not he was willing to accept the terms of the declaration, which invited Sinn Fein to join in peace talks if it abandons terrorism.
Adams's silence prompted Sir Patrick Mayhew, Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, to say on June 16 that Britain intended to proceed with a scheme to let the province's constitutional parties assume some of the duties currently under London's authority.
Northern Ireland is ruled directly from London. Devolution could include the setting up of an elected assembly in Belfast, the Northern Ireland capital, able to pass laws and supervise their application in a range of economic and social areas.
Sir Patrick said the door was still open for the IRA to ``renounce violence completely,'' but he made it clear that the British government was not prepared to wait much longer for Adams.
Sir Patrick is anxious to open talks with the two Ulster Unionist parties and the Social and Democratic Liberal party, which are represented in the British Parliament.
Pressure on Adams to respond positively to the Downing Street Declaration increased in May when Prime Minister John Major, after long hesitation, agreed to clarify some of the provisions of the Anglo-Irish statement.
The British government answered a series of questions posed by Adams. The 21-page response from London said: ``Sinn Fein claims a commitment to the principle of self-determination. That means abiding by the will of the people. The vast majority of people in Ireland, north and south, of both religious traditions, demand an end to violence now.''
Results of the European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland gave a boost to the British approach. Sinn Fein candidates did poorly, while John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), retained his seat in the Strasbourg assembly with a large majority.
Mr. Hume said afterward that he had campaigned on a peace platform that had been ``endorsed by the voters.'' He called on Adams to commit Sinn Fein to the aims of the Downing Street Declaration by abandoning violence and signifying a wish to join in peace talks.
Calls by Hume for Adams to make his intentions clear carry considerable weight because the SDLP leader held secret talks with the Sinn Fein president last autumn. The exchanges gave an early indication that the IRA might be prepared to halt the armed struggle.
A senior Conservative member of the Britain's Parliament said Adams was still hesitating because Sinn Fein remained divided over the Downing Street Declaration. The parliamentarian believes that before the European election only about 60 percent of Sinn Fein and the IRA were prepared to negotiate.
British government sources say Adams would need at least 70 percent support within the IRA before he could bid for peace.
MR. MAJOR and his government are using the threat to go ahead with constitutional talks involving the Unionist parties and the SDLP to increase pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA. They are hampered, however, by the refusal so far by Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist party to agree to take part in talks.
Mr. Paisley and his supporters continue to regard the Downing Street Declaration as a potential sellout to the IRA. James Molyneaux and the Ulster Unionist Party are more likely to join the talks, but remain suspicious of British government intentions. Mr. Molyneaux says that he wants the Dublin government to abandon its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland. Sir Patrick said last week that Dublin would need to reexamine clauses in the Irish Constitution that speak of a united Ireland.
While a response from Adams is awaited, Northern Ireland violence shows no sign of abating. Late on Saturday gunmen of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a Protestant paramilitary group, shot dead six Roman Catholics in a pub in County Down while they were watching the World Cup soccer championship.