Irish Independent

FF TDs' threat to resign over Ahern remarks

Jody Corcoran
Emma Blain

TWO Fianna Fail TDs have threatened to resign from the party if it enters Government with Sinn Fein, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The move follows the controversy sparked by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, after he signalled that Fianna Fail was willing to form a coalition government with Sinn Fein.

The Sunday Independent has also learned that Mr Ahern's comments were carefully choreographed, calculated to "advance the peace process".

Far from being a spontaneous comment, Mr Ahern actually arranged for RTE's Northern Editor Tommie Gorman to ask the question which led to the expression of his controversial view. "The Minister doesn't do careless talk. If he says something there is a reason for it," a senior political source close to the new Minister said yesterday.

Last week Dermot Ahern said that it was now "only a matter of time" before Sinn Fein was in Government in the Republic and that he hoped this happened in the future.

His view has provoked fury within the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, however, with two backbench TDs yesterday saying they would resign from the party if it entered Government with Sinn Fein.

A nationwide Sunday Independent telephone poll has also found overwhelming voter disapproval of Mr Ahern's remarks.

And in a straw poll of 12 Fianna Fail TDs, all of whom were critical of the minister, two TDs, one from Dublin, the other from Leinster, raised the issue of their resignation from the party rather than serving in Government with Sinn Fein.

A Dublin TD said: "If they were considered as coalition partners at the next election, I would consider it a resigning issue."

And a TD from Leinster said: "I would rather be picking stones for a living than go into Government with them."

Yesterday sources close to Minister claimed that there was pressure from both Dr Ian Paisley's DUP and from Sinn Fein to make the comments to "advance the peace process".

"You will note there was no criticism of him from the DUP," the source said.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, yesterday moved to allay the concerns of his backbench TDs over the comments of Dermot Ahern.

Bertie Ahern's spokeswoman told the Sunday Independent: "The question of Sinn Fein being in any government doesn't even arise at the moment. The Taoiseach has always made his position clear on this issue as far back as 2001 at a Fianna Fail parliamentary party conference in Kilkenny. He stated that there were issues which still needed to be resolved before the matter could be reviewed by Fianna Fail.

"There has to be an end of paramilitarism. There must be decommissioning of weapons and there can be no place for private armies. We are not at that position now. The issue is not even up for discussion."

Notwithstanding the controversy he has provoked, however, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, is satisfied that he was right to say what he did. But he believes his comments were "interpreted in a totally different way down here than they were in the North".

A source close to the Minister told the Sunday Independent that there was an "element of choreography" involved in the comments.

The source claimed that there was pressure from Dr Ian Paisley's DUP and from Sinn Fein to say what he did.

Said the source: "The Minister's comments take away from the DUP the argument that it should not share power with Sinn Fein if Fianna Fail would not.

"Also, Sinn Fein has been pressing for somebody in Fianna Fail to say this, from the point of view of their supporters."

Speaking to reporters at Hillsborough Castle last week, Dermot Ahern said Fianna Fail had "a particular stance" on Sinn Fein participation in Government, which was well known. This was that Sinn Fein cannot participate in Government in the Republic for so long as the IRA holds on to its weapons and continues to be active.

However, he added: "But obviously if circumstances change, our view in relation to Sinn Fein going into Government will change. I believe it is only a matter of time that Sinn Fein will be in Government in the future . . . There will come a time, I envisage, when Sinn Fein will be in Government in the Republic as they will be in the North and I hope that happens in the future."

The Sunday Independent has obtained a Government memorandum, prepared the day after Dermot Ahern's comments, which qualifies what the Minister had said.

It states: "The Minister for Foreign Affairs yesterday asserted that once the IRA ceases to be active and verifiably puts arms beyond use, the possibility of Sinn Fein entering Government in the Republic could arise.

"In terms of the peace process, the Minister was laying down an important marker. As long as an armed and active IRA exists, Sinn Fein will remain in the cold.

"This is the position of Fianna Fail and all major parties in the Republic.

"It is clear that, in the event of the gun being taken out of Irish politics, over time, coalition decisions could be based on the policy stances of individual parties alone.

"However, on policy matters Minister Ahern has stated clearly that, at this stage, Sinn Fein economic policies are utterly unworkable.

"He has gone so far as to assert that Sinn Fein economic policies would 'make all of Ireland a social and economic wasteland'.

"On policy issues the Minister has asserted that 'a vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for the dole queue'." It remains to be seen whether this qualification will do much to allay the concerns of voters.

A nationwide Sunday Independent telephone poll last week found that 60 per cent of people disagreed with Mr Ahern that it was "only a matter of time" before Sinn Fein is in Government here, with 40 per cent agreeing with him.

A massive 82 per cent did not share the minister's hope that this happened in the future, with only 18 per cent so hoping.

Only 6 per cent of those polled wanted to see Sinn Fein in Government with Fianna Fail, as opposed to Labour (49 per cent) and the Progressive Democrats (45 per cent).

An overwhelming 91 per cent believed Sinn Fein should not be in Government before the "complete abolition" of the IRA.

The Foreign Affairs Minister may be concerned that 63 per cent of those polled thought his comments represented his own opinions, with 32 per cent believing they were the opinion of Fianna Fail and only 6 per cent the opinion of the Government.

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