Key Protestant party coy on eve of N. Ireland talks
September 14, 1997
Web posted at: 2:19 p.m. EDT (1819 GMT)
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- A crucial new round of
Northern Ireland peace talks is to get under way Monday, but
the role of a key pro-British party could jeopardize
round-table talks, which for the first time include the
nationalist Sinn Fein party.
Two smaller pro-British parties favoring continued British
rule of Northern Ireland already announced they would boycott
the talks, but the key Ulster Unionist Party of David Trimble
said it would decide on Monday whether to negotiate directly
with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican
Sinn Fein gained access to the talks for the first time after
the IRA restored a cease-fire in July, announcing a halt in
its decades-old violent campaign against British rule in
What's at Stake|
At stake in Monday's talks is the success or failure of years
of Anglo-Irish diplomacy, which has been aimed getting
pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists to forge a
lasting settlement for Northern Ireland. About 3,200 people
have been killed in the decades-long conflict in the British
Trimble pledged that the Ulster Unionists, the sole
mainstream voice of the 60 percent pro-British Protestant
majority in the province, would be present at the start of
the negotiations at Stormont Castle.
"We realize that in proceeding we will be involved directly
or indirectly ... in a process that involves Sinn Fein,"
Trimble said in a British TV interview on Sunday.
Some analysts believe that Trimble's party will attend the
opening of the talks but may then shun direct negotiations
with Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein party, its political arch rival.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged the Ulster
Unionists to take part in Monday's talks and said that Adams
and Sinn Fein would have to answer some key questions at the
Blair's comment came after the IRA issued a statement on
Thursday, saying it could not agree with democratic
principles for the talks, as drawn up by their chairman,
former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.
Mitchell backs Britain and Ireland's assertion that Northern
Ireland's British status should not change until a majority
But the IRA and many Sinn Fein spokesmen say the province is
an illegal colony and that the people of Ireland should also
have a say in its future.
The IRA also said it disagreed with the Irish and British
governments' goal of getting paramilitaries to surrender
their arms during the talks, saying they would only do so at
the end of negotiations.
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said it was
"time to stop all the stalling and delaying tactics (by
Trimble) and move forward to bring the peace settlement."
Reuters contributed to this report.