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Sinn Fein gains access to Northern Ireland talks

September 9, 1997
Web posted at: 1:56 p.m. EDT (1756 GMT)
Gerry Adams

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, joined the peace process Tuesday that aims to determine the future of Northern Ireland, after renouncing violence as a political tool.

This paves the way for Sinn Fein's first face-to-face talks with British Cabinet ministers since 1921, when the country was partitioned.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and party secretary Lucilita Bhreatnach agreed behind closed doors at Stormont Castle in east Belfast to abide by the guiding principles underlying the Northern Ireland all-party talks.


These principles were set up in January 1996 by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, former Canadian defense chief Gen. John de Chastelain and former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri. They are generally referred to as the "Mitchell Principles," and require negotiators to affirm their commitment to the tenets listed below:

  • Democratic and peaceful means of resolving political issues. Total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. The disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission.
  • Renounce for themselves and oppose any effort by others to use force or threaten to use force to influence the course or outcome of all-party negotiations.
  • Abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree.
  • Urge that "punishment" killings and beatings stop, and take effective steps to prevent such actions.

Sinn Fein pledged to honor the Mitchell Principles exactly 51 days after the IRA stopped its decades-old violent campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland.

"This is a watershed. There is an expectation and understanding out there of the importance of this moment," Adams said.

And Paul Murphy, minister for political development in the province, said the Sinn Fein pledge marked a new phase in the peace process.

"The significance I am sure is that we are now entering a new era ... in the sense that the gun is going out of politics in Northern Ireland and that here Sinn Fein is ascribing to those principles of nonviolence, of democratic government," he said.

"I believe people outside these buildings, outside Stormont, are of the view that enough is enough, and that change must come," Murphy said. "But that change must be change which encompasses everybody's aspirations and which will last for generations."


The pledge to honor the Mitchell Principles means that the 10 parties involved can now go ahead with round-table talks on the future of Northern Ireland on Monday, as planned.

However, two mainstream Protestant parties that favor continued British rule of Northern Ireland -- the Democratic Unionists and United Kingdom Unionists -- plan to boycott the talks. In addition, the powerful Ulster Unionist Party, is expected to decide Saturday whether to attend the crucial new round of negotiations.

In a statement, the Ulster Unionists called Sinn Fein's commitment "a charade."

"The subscription of Sinn Fein to the Mitchell Principles will completely lack credibility. Actions matter much more than words," the statement said.

The London and Dublin governments agree that sovereignty in Northern Ireland can only be changed through the ballot box. While Protestants generally are determined to remain British, most Catholics favor making Northern Ireland part of Ireland.

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