Britain, Ireland Dare Adams to Pick Peace
Can talks succeed without Sinn Fein?
Britain and Ireland are ratcheting up pressure on Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish Republican Army's political wing Sinn Fein, to force him to show that he rejects - rather than "regrets" - the IRA's campaign of violence.
The full-court press comes in the wake of the IRA bomb blast in Manchester, England, during US-backed peace talks on Northern Ireland's future. Sinn Fein has not been allowed to attend until the IRA declares a cease-fire. Now that truce seems even more unlikely, and if Mr. Adams doesn't condemn the blast, he faces political isolation as negotiations continue in Belfast without his party.
In addition, Adams risks losing the good will of the United States, which has opened doors for Northern Ireland's nationalists to meet with Irish-Americans in the US and encourage an IRA cease-fire. But now the US may be less inclined to allow Sinn Fein officials, including Adams, into the US in the future unless they disassociate themselves from IRA violence.
The warnings to Adams came amid fears that in reaction to Saturday's bomb blast, which injured more than 200 people, terrorism may return to Northern Ireland itself. A statement by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a leading Protestant paramilitary group, said Monday a "resumption of conflict" in Northern Ireland was "imminent." The UFF said it was putting its field units - inactive since the IRA declared a cease-fire in August 1994 that lasted until this February - back on alert.
Irish Prime Minister John Bruton challenged Adams Tuesday to say whether he had asked the IRA to restore the cease-fire, and whether he would continue to support the IRA's armed campaign. If Adams failed to respond to Bruton's challenge, all contact would end, he said. And British Prime Minister John Major told the House of Commons on Tuesday that Adams faced a "moment of truth" and that Sinn Fein had to "make up its mind" whether it wanted peace or was supporting terrorism.
The bombing has played into the hands of Protestant politicians in Northern Ireland, who have claimed all along that the IRA's August 1994 cease-fire was a tactical maneuver.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the blast has been on public opinion. Among people who had voted for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland's peace forum elections on May 30, there was a widespread sense of betrayal, according to Sinn Fein voters interviewed after the Manchester blast. Adams had campaigned on the slogan "Vote for Peace, Vote for Sinn Fein." The party gained its highest vote ever of 15.5 percent, thanks largely to the support of moderate nationalists.
As Adams found himself put on the spot, preparations went ahead for further peace talks. Some analysts believe that he may be content to stay out of the peace talks in Belfast, confident that they will fail unless Sinn Fein is involved. Britain and Ireland seem more prepared to call that bluff.