ic NorthernIreland - Northern Ireland News

Battle Call to SF Activists Sep 24 2003

By Ciaran McKeown, Political Correspondent c.mckeown@newsletter.co.uk

THE IRA may not be ready to say that the war is over, but Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams all but said yesterday that the Assembly election is on for this year.

Prior to a third meeting with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble at Stormont yesterday, he declared his party to be on an election footing as of last night.

Sinn Fein activists from all over Northern Ireland and the Republic gathered at Stormont yesterday for a strategy meeting, billed as ''Building for Irish Reunification'' and, while pundits were listening intently for any light on the Trimble-Adams dialogue, the focus of the meeting appeared to be genuinely on elections.

Mr Adams said they would be fighting local government elections in the Republic next year, as well as the European elections, and assured the activists that ''Sinn Fein would be the story of the elections''.

"Some have argued what they have referred to as a successful election is only possible if the IRA does certain things,'' he said.

"We have argued that an election and the right of people to vote is a matter of political principle and that Mr Blair should not have cancelled the elections when he did.

"With this business about the IRA doing certain things, all of us have been through all of that last spring.

"So I think the two governments, as they seek to work all of this out with us and with other parties, need to have some sense of what is do-able, of what is possible, of what is realisable.

"It isn't just down to the IRA and just down to republicans. This party is totally wedded, not just to making this Agreement work, but to making the entire peace process work and to bring about an entirely new dispensation on this island.

"But to get other people to do things or to say things, as we have seen in the spring of this year, is sometimes very, very difficult, particularly or especially when those people have not fulfilled their obligations.''

Mr Adams singled out the Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission for criticism, and said the governments had to address the ''whole vexed question'' of scaling down military installations.

He described the Good Friday Agreement as a ''site of struggle'' aimed at delivering change.

"What I am trying to say is of course there are challenges and the end of this process will end up with the situation where there won't be armed groups, including the IRA, active on this island, that we will have an entirely demilitarised and peaceful situation.

"But that is a journey that we are all on. "I will meet Mr Trimble after this meeting and we will discuss all of these issues and I think that it is fair to say that there are elements within unionism who clearly, despite hesitancy in the past, want this to work.

"My main message in these remarks in terms of collective responsibility is aimed at Tony Blair and the Taoiseach - let's be reasonable and rational about what is do-able in the immediate term.''

While the wider political community wondered if the Stormont gathering was an elaborate Sinn Fein exercise to demonstrate the primacy of politics over the physical-force tradition, party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin emphasised specific policies.

Holding forth a vision of an ''Ireland of Equals'', he itemised expansion of existing Implementation Bodies and Areas of Cooperation, an all-Ireland Rights for All Charter, an all-Ireland Consultative Forum, development of the Cross-Border Corridor and an all-Ireland Spatial Strategy that would ensure equitable treatment in infrastructural investment and development for all regions.

Neither Mr Adams and nor Mr Trimble commented later on what was their third face-to-face meeting in the last fortnight.

Former SDLP Minister Sean Farren said both the Ulster Unionist and Sinn Fein leaders knew and ''have known since last spring'' what they had to do.

"David Trimble and Gerry Adams both need to make clear that they are going to live up to the Joint Declaration.

"That means the UUP committing never again to play political games with our democratic institutions, never again collapsing them to suit their own party interests.

"It also means the republican movement making clear that it will bring paramilitary activity to an end for once and for all.''

While those most directly involved in negotiations have been at pains to play down hopes of a breakthrough to an election, the feeling seemed to be growing yesterday that every passing day made further postponement of an election more difficult.

Meanwhile, a summer of internal upheaval in the Ulster Unionist Party seemed like ancient history last night as an under-attended meeting of party officers had informal discussions on their approach to the various elements of the Joint Declaration.

Jeffrey Donaldson attended and left early for a constituency meeting. The words split, discipline, whip and resignation were nowhere to be heard.

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