Arms vote threatens to stall N. Ireland peace talks
July 22, 1997
Web posted at: 12:37 p.m. EDT (1637 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- Hard-liners in Northern Ireland's pro-British
majority toughened their stance against joining Irish
Republican Army supporters at the peace table on Tuesday, one
day before a critical vote that could help determine whether
the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, is allowed to
participate in the talks.
The Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the uncompromising Democratic
Unionist Party, said he intended never to meet "IRA-Sinn Fein
terrorists" across the table. He called on David Trimble,
the leader of the largest party, the Ulster Unionists, to
join him in voting Wednesday against a joint British-Irish
document outlining how the IRA would start disarming during
His statements came after an hour-long meeting in London with
British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Protestants, including
Trimble, are concerned that the agreement's wording was
watered down to appease the IRA.
The nine parties that started negotiating last year were
scheduled to vote Wednesday on ground rules for the next
phase of the peace talks.
The British and Irish governments want the IRA to disarm
during the talks. There is no guarantee written into the
document requiring the British government to kick Sinn Fein
out of the talks if the IRA does not disarm by a specific
While Paisley and United Kingdom Unionist leader Bob
McCartney say they will never talk to Sinn Fein and are
certain to vote "no" Wednesday, Trimble kept open the
possibility, "provided that we have clear commitments made
and a clear procedure to achieve decommissioning (arms)."
A combined unionist vote against the plans could upset a
timetable for political progress.
But British Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam indicated
optimism that the peace talks would move ahead, regardless of
the vote on IRA decommissioning.
"Everybody is determined -- and Mr. Trimble has made it clear
that he won't walk even if he votes against the
decommissioning paper -- to continue to move forward," she
Blair aims to start such talks by September 15. Britain says
Sinn Fein will be admitted to the talks if the IRA truce is
deemed genuine by that date.
Sinn Fein gets office space
Sinn Fein reaped the first reward for the IRA cease-fire on
Monday by finally gaining admission to Stormont, the center
of British administration in east Belfast. An office
equipped with telephones and a fax machine was waiting for
the party, courtesy of the British government. It had been
set aside when the talks began in June 1996.
Sinn Fein can use the office to talk informally with anyone
who is willing. On Monday they used it to meet with some
potential allies, including Irish Foreign Minister Ray Burke,
leading the Irish government team, and leaders of Sinn Fein's
moderate rival for Catholic votes, the Social Democratic and
Sinn Fein's enemies made clear their distaste for the
gesture. Paisley's Democratic Unionists avoided Stormont
entirely, while the small United Kingdom Unionist Party
walked out as soon as Sinn Fein came in.
The IRA called a cease-fire on Sunday in its 28-year war
against British rule.
Protestant parties are angry that Britain is opening the door
to Sinn Fein while the guerrillas remain armed and have
refused to say the cease-fire is permanent.
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