Unionists must make power-sharing pledge - Adams

16/09/2004 - 10:30:52

Unionist demands for the IRA to be wound up can be met as soon as they give a pledge to share power in Northern Ireland, Gerry Adams stressed today.

The Sinn Féin president led his negotiating team into crucial peace talks at Leeds Castle, Kent, carrying a 5ft long bugging device uncovered at the party’s headquarters in Belfast.

Mr Adams predicted a deal with Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists was inevitable, whether or not the breakthrough came during the discussions being chaired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

But, with the DUP clamouring for the IRA to be disbanded first, Mr Adams made clear that the power-sharing Executive, suspended two years ago amid allegations of republican spying, must be protected.

He said: “I did set out the context I thought it was possible to resolve that concern unionists are so loud about, and that context is a process of sustainable change.

“We want to do business with Ian Paisley. We would be quite pleased to vote for Ian Paisley as First Minister, but in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Even though Mr Adams and his chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, insisted they had come to do business, they vented their anger over the surveillance equipment allegedly planted by the security services.

“This is an offering to the mighty god of British intelligence,” said Mr Adams.

“We brought it here to return to Mr Blair. We think it’s the height of hypocrisy and bad faith at any time, but especially when we are talking to the British government, that its agents should be tapping our conversations.”

During the intense three-day talks, London and Dublin want all sides to complete on the outstanding issues which have plagued the six-year-old Good Friday Agreement.

A total end to all terrorist violence, IRA disarmament, more reforms to Northern Ireland’s peace process, and a further military scale down across the North are all on the table.

Even though Mr Paisley and his number two, Peter Robinson, want major reforms to the Belfast accord, they were warned by Mr Adams this will not be tolerated.

“There can be no change,” he declared.

“The DUP is the only anti-Agreement party here, and it has to be realistic about what can be done.”

Amid reports of further punishment beatings by republican terrorists on both sides of the Irish border, Mr Adams insisted his party was totally opposed to the brutal form of street justice.

“At the lowest level they are counter productive. They do not work.”

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists and former First Minister in the Stormont administration, stressed the issue of IRA arms needed to be top of the agenda.

The Upper Bann MP walked out of the power-sharing experiment in October 2002 amid claims that the IRA was spying inside the British government’s Belfast offices.

He said: “The priority should be to focus on what caused suspension in the first place, what caused the Assembly to collapse two years ago.

“The (British) government’s focus today should be on republicans to see whether republicans are now finally going to do what they should have done if they were going to fully implement the Agreement, namely to completely decommission and operate by exclusively peaceful and democratic means, which essentially means with no private army.”

Mr Trimble, who pulled the plug on an attempt to break the political impasse nearly 12 months ago because the Provos refused to reveal what guns have been destroyed, demanded more from the man overseeing disarmament.

“Gen de Chastelain must free himself from his vow of silence by the IRA to allow him to confirm the percentage of weapons that have already been decommissioned, and then tell us the length of time that will be needed to destroy the remainder of the weapons,” he said.

But the UUP chief also confirmed he would resist any attempt by the rival DUP to split the First Minister and Deputy First Minister’s office in the Stormont Executive.

Mr Paisley’s party, along with Sinn Féin, would take the two top posts in the cabinet as the biggest parties in Northern Ireland.

Although the DUP may press for changes to the current system, Mr Trimble described this as a cornerstone that cannot be undone.

Security was tight as the parties gathered at the stunning Leeds Castle, once home to the monarchy with history stretching back as far as the 8th century.

With Mr Blair and Mr Ahern arriving later today, Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Murphy and Foreign Minister Mr Cowen were taking charge of the first round of talks.

As Mark Durkan took his nationalist SDLP in, he said it was time for the terrorists and political parties to make their minds up.

Along with achieving rock-solid devolution, he called for guarantees that “in future people won’t have anything more to hear about the IRA or fear from the IRA”.

David Ford, leader of the centre-ground Alliance Party, urged against a quick fix that would solve nothing in the long run.

But he refused to even consider what could happen if the talks fail, calling for all sides to do their bit.

Mr Ford said: “If that’s the case, we can move forward from today. We shouldn’t be discussing Plan B.”

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