Sinn Fein calls violence 'a thing of the past'
Britain, Ireland prepare to enact anti-terrorism lawsSeptember 1, 1998
Web posted at: 6:29 p.m. EDT (2229 GMT)
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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- With the Irish and British governments poised to enact harsh anti-terrorism laws and Northern Ireland preparing for U.S. President Bill Clinton's Thursday visit, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said his party was "committed to making conflict a thing of the past."
David Trimble, Northern Ireland's first minister designate and leader of the pro-British Ulster unionist Party, welcomed Adams' remarks cautiously but said, "Words alone are not enough.
"The people of Northern Ireland will now judge Sinn Fein on their actions over the coming days," Trimble said in a statement responding to Adams. "An end to the war means the weapons of terrorism must be destroyed and all forms of paramilitary violence must cease for good."
Adams' remarks were the strongest yet from Sinn Fein, the political ally of the guerrilla Irish Republican Army, since the April signing of what's become known as the Good Friday agreement because of the timing of its conclusion.
"There is a shared responsibility to removing the causes and to achieving an end to all conflict," he said. "Sinn Fein believe the violence we have seen must be for all of us now a thing of the past, over, done with and gone."
The steps put in place by the April agreement were dealt a shattering blow August 15, when a car bomb in the village Omagh left 28 people dead and over 200 wounded. An IRA splinter group calling itself the Real IRA claimed responsibility for the blast.
The mainstream IRA called a truce in July 1997, but unionist groups have called on the republicans to disarm and renounce violence completely and forever.
Aftermath of Omagh
For three decades, Northern Ireland has been a battleground between the mostly Catholic republicans and the mostly Protestant unionists who support British rule of the province. Under the terms of the April accord, the Northern Irish people have elected an assembly that is scheduled to begin meeting in September, paving the way for further peace talks between the factions.
But the Omagh bombing shook the talks' foundation and prompted the British and Irish governments to crack down legislatively on IRA dissidents.
Britain's new law restricts terrorist suspects' right to silence, allows courts to convict suspects largely on law enforcement sources' testimony, and allows authorities to seize property from people who support truce-defying groups.
The Irish law strengthens the witness protection program and lets police interrogate suspects for up to four days without filing charges.
Both bills are likely to pass easily but not without controversy.
British Labor Party lawmaker Robin Corbett said he'd probably vote against the measure, pointing out that similar harsh measures enacted after deadly bombings in 1974 did not speed the end of the conflict.
But British government minister Jack Cunningham said the small number of remaining dissidents makes the situation different now from 1974. The new laws, he said, would allow the government "to work more effectively than ever before with the government of the Irish Republic in dealing with these tiny minority groups who refuse to accept the overwhelming will of the people."
The Clinton visit
Against this backdrop, President Clinton -- who has backed efforts to bring peace to the province -- is preparing to fly into Belfast on Thursday. During the one-day trip, the president plans to meet with assembly members and deliver a keynote address at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.
Clinton will also travel to Omagh, 90 kilometers (70 miles) west of Belfast, where the wounds of violence are still fresh and raw.
Bitterness and mistrust persist in Northern Ireland and its island neighbor, the Republic of Ireland. But commitment to an end to violence is strengthening.
"Both Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists purport to support the agreement yet they persist in making life difficult for each other -- the unionists by setting unrealistic conditions about disarmament, the republicans by refusing to take even a small step in that direction," said Dublin's Irish Independent newspaper. "A declaration (by the IRA) that the so-called armed struggle has permanently ended could be the way to restore the trust needed for a new start."
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