Sinn Fein leaders hail truce, offer words of peace

April 07, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- As the Irish Republican Army began a 72-hour cease-fire in Northern Ireland, high-ranking republican political leaders brought a hopeful message to London yesterday and delivered a "private" letter to Prime Minister John Major from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.

Neither side would reveal the contents of the letter, but republican leaders said that Mr. Adams asked for direct talks on "clarification" of the Anglo-Irish peace process.

A declaration signed Dec. 15 by Mr. Major and Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds raised hopes of a quick end to violence in the six counties of Northern Ireland, as it seemed to open the way to negotiations with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

But hopes faltered as Sinn Fein leaders put off agreeing to participate in the peace process until they received the clarifications they wanted.

Speaking at a news conference in central London, Sinn Fein's general secretary, Lucilita Bhreatnach, and Tom Hartley, the party's national chairman, said direct talks on clarification would not be negotiations. Both said negotiations might follow.

Ms. Bhreatnach and Mr. Hartley stressed the unprecedented nature of the IRA cease-fire. Mr. Adams, who is banned by the British government from entering Britain, made the same point in an article in the Guardian newspaper yesterday.

"The importance of the suspension should be recognized," Mr. Hartley said. "That form of suspension has not happened within this last 20 years.

"There are no conditions to it," he said. "It's obvious that the suspension is to allow some space to the British government. It shows flexibility on behalf of the republicans."

Mr. Major condemned the IRA cease-fire after it was announced last week as a cynical public relations ploy without substance.

"What is needed is not a three-day suspension, after which the killing would start again, but a permanent end to violence," he said.

Mr. Major has already turned down a proposal that the British government send a minister or senior party member to find out what clarifications Sinn Fein wants.

The suggestion was advanced by John Hume, the moderate leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party in Northern Ireland. Talks between Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams marked the beginning of a search for a peace process more then a year ago.

"I do think there is a momentum now to the conflict in Ireland that is pushing it along to resolution," Mr. Hartley said. "Minds are opening up. People are trying to look for new ways of moving forward."

He said he believes that there is a recognition by the British political establishment that the conflict has gone on too long.

Ms. Bhreatnach said that three areas of the Downing Street declaration need to be clarified -- ambiguities in the text, differences in interpretation and commentary, and "steps arising out of this declaration envisaged to advance the peace process."

Mr. Hartley rejected a suggestion that Sinn Fein should "counsel" the IRA to extend the cease-fire. Armed struggle is not the "business" of Sinn Fein, he said.

"What we are trying to do is build a peace process that will address the problem in its totality," he said. "In Northern Ireland, that means not just the IRA. It means the British Army, the Loyalists.

"We want to reach a stage in terms of the peace process where there is a demilitarization," he said. "We want to take the gun out of Irish politics."

Mr. Hartley said demilitarization could lead to a point "where we can start to address the core political issues that lead to the conflict."

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