By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Sinn FTin President Gerry Adams has said that it had been a “mistake” for his party to agree to take part in the new Northern Ireland assembly so soon after the Good Friday Agreement was signed and that his position was becoming “untenable,” thanks to the deepening crisis over IRA decommissioning, which unionists are demanding before Sinn FTin can take seats in the assembly’s shadow executive body.
Adams told reporters at Stormont last week that Sinn FTin had taken its seats despite huge misgivings, to give political stability in the days leading up to the annual crisis over the Orange march at Drumcree. It was a wrong move, the Sinn Fein leader said.
His surprise remarks came after he gave a press conference outlining Sinn FTin’s position on policing in Northern Ireland. A group of reporters surrounded Adams after the conference and pressed him on the latest crisis in the peace process: the impasse over IRA arms decommissioning.
Adams seemed downcast as he revealed his deep concern and worry over what appears to be an impassable blockage on the road to full implementation of the Good Friday peace accord.
Adams remarks came as the British prime minister, Tony Blair, planned to meet the UUP leader, David Trimble, and the SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, during the British Labor Party’s annual conference in Blackpool, England. Blair is also expected to have talks with Adams
Trimble is the assembly’s first minister designate and Mallon is his deputy.
The Ulster Unionists have demanded that decommissioning must begin in a “credible” way before Sinn Fein can take up the two ministerial posts justified by its electoral mandate.
The UUP leader said this week that if the IRA doesn’t begin actual decommissioning, the other political parties could press ahead without Sinn Fein’s involvement. However, British Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam made it clear that she expects the shadow executive, including Sinn Fein, to be in place by the end of next month.
Mallon diverged sharply from Trimble, saying he would not be party to the holding of the inaugural North-South Ministerial Council meeting — also proposed in the agreement — until the Executive is formed.
He described Trimble’s assertion that the first All-Ireland meeting of the Council could take place without Sinn Fein’s representation in the Executive as a “contrivance.”
There are suggestions that the Irish government might propose a firm timetable for the handing over of weapons, to which it would expect both the IRA and loyalist groups to adhere, although current indications are that the government is as yet reluctant to do so.
Sinn Fein has accused Trimble of using challenges to his leadership to pressure the two governments into a harder line on decommissioning. Said a party member: “We can’t deliver IRA decommissioning, whatever outsiders believe. If we collude now in the setting up of a timetable, it will only mean trouble further down the road.”
Republican sources this week were adamant that decommissioning would not take place in the foreseeable future for “defense reasons,” among others, despite Martin McGuinness’s role as link between Sinn Fein and the International Body on Decommissioning.
The dangers faced by Trimble from within unionism were highlighted during the week when he attended an Orange meeting in his home town of Portadown, where the Order is still holding daily protests against the rerouting of July’s parade down the Garvaghy Road.
Trimble had to be bundled into his chauffeur-driven car as he left the meeting and was jostled and jeered by hardline loyalists, angry he has not been more supportive of the Drumcree protest. Senior Orangemen said they were appalled at the scenes.
The UUP denied Sinn Fein has an automatic right, by electoral mandate alone, to places on the Executive, saying that in three places the agreement stipulates that all those holding office must declare their commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
Sinn Fein points to the decommissioning section in the agreement, which does not link in with the setting up of the executive, and which only commits the party to “using any influence it has” to achieve disarming. Both governments and the SDLP share this interpretation.
Adams has said that the crisis is not about decommissioning, but the reluctance of unionism to accept the principle of equality and the necessity of fundamental change.
“Mr. Trimble has skillfully utilized the difficulties within unionism to point up decommissioning as a make-or-break issue for his leadership, even though this involved a complete revision of the agreement,” Adams said.
Regiments to depart
Meanwhile, the RUC chief constable announced last week that two more British regiments are returning home as a result of the improving security situation. Top levels are lower than at any point since the first IRA cease-fire. Security blockages in the village of Bessbrook in South Armagh are to be scaled down and several roads around the International Airport west of Belfast are to be reopened.
Also, a dozen more paramilitary prisoners serving life sentences have been released from jail, including two loyalist double murderers. The total so far released early is now more than 40.
Edward Jones, a UFF man jailed six years ago for the murder of Catholic man Loughlin Maginn in Rathfriland, was among those freed. The UFF had openly boasted it murdered Maginn using information from security force files and this sparked off the Steven Inquiry into collusion between the British Army and RUC with loyalist groups.