Ahern keeps door open for SF despite exclusion calls

Irish Independent
1 Feb 2005

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern has again come out against
excluding Sinn Fein from the peace process in the wake
of the controversy over criminality and the Northern
Bank robbery.

But the party could face sanctions as a result of what
is likely to be a damaging report from the Independent
Monitoring Commission (IMC) which will make a special
report next week.

It is likely to come out with the view that
republicans carried out the €38m robbery - the biggest
ever in history - which has caused a major rift
between Sinn Fein and the Irish and British

Despite his increasingly tough line with Sinn Fein and
the IRA, Mr Ahern feels that to leave republicans out
in the cold would be counter-productive.

His comments came as the DUP said it would exclude
Sinn Fein anyway as it would not deal with them and
called on the two governments to "freeze them out".

Mr Ahern will make his opposition to this course of
action clear today when he meets British Prime
Minister Tony Blair for talks at 10 Downing Street.

Mr Ahern said their intention was to work out a
programme of activity for 2005 as they try to re-build
trust to the level it had reached before the talks
breakdown on December 8 and the subsequent
deterioration in relations caused by the bank robbery.

Speaking after a meeting with three IMC members at
Government Buildings, Mr Ahern said he was against
"the politics of exclusion".

"There are serious issues to which we have to find a
resolution and I will work positively to try to do
so," he said.

He said they still needed answers to the questions
they had posed to Sinn Fein leaders last week.

The IMC document will be given to the Government early
next week. It is likely to be considered at next
Tuesday's Cabinet meeting before being published.

It was the first meeting between Mr Ahern and the IMC
since the December robbery in Belfast which the PSNI
has blamed on the IRA - albeit offering no evidence so
far to substantiate its assertion.

The IMC was set up a year ago, much to the annoyance
of nationalists who say that its formation was outside
of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and largely
at the behest of UUP leader David Trimble.

It comprises representatives of the Irish, British and
US governments and its task is to monitor paramilitary
activity in the North.

IMC commissioners John Alderdice, John Grieve and Joe
Brosnan declined to comment on their discussions
following yesterday's meeting.

Meanwhile, DUP Assembly member Peter Weir, reiterating
the party's hardline stance, said: "It is becoming
more and more apparent that Sinn Fein/IRA, like the
proverbial leopard, cannot change their spots.

"Thankfully for the unionist electorate, we will not
be fooled by the weasel words or the hollow platitudes
about peace and democracy, like others have in the

"It is action that is needed, not words," said Mr

"Given the stubborn and selfish refusal of the
Republican Movement to divvy up over the issue of
decommissioning and to cease their criminal and
paramilitary activity, people are entitled to ask: why
are these republicans being allowed to hold up
political progress?," he said.

Mr Weir said republicans had clearly refused to buy
into calls from Mr Blair for an end to all criminality
and violence.

Therefore, he argued, Sinn Fein needed to be frozen
out of the political process until such times as they
could divorce themselves completely from the IRA.

"The decommissioning of all terrorist weaponry and the
ending of all criminal empires will evidence this
commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic
means," he said.

"Unionists stand ready to share power and work
together with others, but there can be no place for
those who murder, maim and rob banks.

"To countenance the continued presence of Sinn Fein in
such circumstances is an insult to the law-abiding
people of Northern Ireland," he added.

Gene McKenna
Political Editor

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