Sinn Fein gains access to Northern Ireland talks
September 9, 1997
Web posted at: 1:56 p.m. EDT (1756 GMT)
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
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
Total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. The
disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an
- 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,"
And Paul Murphy, minister for political development in the
province, said the Sinn Fein pledge marked a new phase in the
"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
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.