Irish American Information Service


09/12/04 19:07 EST

Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams has set the tone for negotiations at Leeds Castle this week by insisting that Sinn Féin will not tolerate any Democratic Unionist Party proposals that detract from the Belfast Agreement.

Senior DUP members have insisted that the agreement be recast and made clear this will be a vital issue for them in the intensive talks planned for this week.

However Mr Adams rejected various proposals to amend the agreement tabled by the DUP at talks in Stormont in the past two weeks.

He indicates an absolute polarisation of views between the DUP and republicans on whether or not there can be any 'modification' of the agreement. Mr Adams flatly rejects many DUP proposals, most notably concerning the roles of the First and Deputy First Ministers and the independence of Executive Ministers.

The DUP has insisted that Ministers be more accountable to the Assembly, but Mr Adams has suggested that their considerable autonomy be protected.

British sources doubted last night if the IRA would decommission any weapons in advance of the three days of intensive talks at Leeds Castle in Kent, which start on Thursday.

However, one nationalist source thought the IRA could announce an early move on arms "to try to outmanoeuvre the two governments" in advance of talks.

One well-placed British source was wary of speculation that the IRA would decommission anything in advance but added that such a move could well follow the talks.

Gen John de Chastelain, head of the international decommissioning body, and his colleague, Mr Andrew Sens, arrive back in Northern Ireland this morning amid reports that a move by the IRA is imminent.

The Northern Secretary, Mr Paul Murphy, warned at the weekend that failure to reach an accord could lead to the restoration of direct rule from London.

Official sources in Dublin distanced the Government from the comments, saying there was no package in place to restore direct rule.

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen, was dealing only with the agreement, they said. Dr Seán Farren of the SDLP also warned yesterday against a return to direct rule.

Mr Adams did not refer explicitly to Mr Murphy's remarks, but says in his article that there must be no erosion of the Belfast Agreement.

"The DUP represents the anti-agreement minority of the electorate. The logic of all of this is that if there is to be an agreement involving the DUP and the other parties, then the DUP will have to abandon their rejectionist policy and move away from positions which are designed to destroy the fundamental principles of the agreement," he said.

"Whether the DUP will do this remains to be seen. But let me be clear. There will no erosion of the core elements, principles and safeguards of the Good Friday Agreement."

Sources close to Mr Cowen, said he shared Mr Blair's view that more time was not required to bridge the gap between the sides. "Both governments are determined to go for this deal purposefully and in a proactive and constructive manner," they said.

Although they said the Irish Government was cautiously optimistic after official contacts over the weekend, they stressed "the need for political will to be engaged on all sides". If such will was brought to bear on the progress made already, then a deal would be possible.

Sinn Féin chairman Mr Mitchel McLaughlin said outside a meeting of the party's ard chomhairle (Governing Executive) on Saturday that nothing was ruled out at the talks.

"We are up for a comprehensive and definitive package that deals with all of the outstanding issues, including those issues that have fixated, or, if you like, transfixed unionism up to this point in time," he said

Asked if such issues included the disbandment of the IRA, he said: "I have to say, without being facetious, what part of comprehensive do you not understand?"

A British government spokesman said last night that contacts between officials and the parties had been ongoing, adding: "We are still moving forward."

Meanwhile, in Belfast this morning, the trial begins of Mr Ken Barrett, who is charged with the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane 15 years ago.

The British government has cited this case as reason for not commencing an inquiry into the murder, claiming that the prosecution could be jeopardised by a parallel judicial investigation.

However, the Finucane family and others believe that the conclusion of the Barrett case will be followed by further prosecutions, thus holding up a judicial inquiry even further.

One official source said last night that the conclusion of the Barrett proceedings "wouldn't necessarily mean the end of the judicial process".

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