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8 January 1997 Edition

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The Orange card is played once more

by Laura Friel

``The current serious situation has arisen because Unionism and loyalism are opposed to change,'' said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. Following a meeting on Tuesday with British Secretary of State, Marjorie Mowlam, the Sinn Fein delegation called on the British and Irish governments to ``grab this process by the scruff of the neck and drive it forward with urgency.

``The unionists are trying to assert a veto,'' Adams said, ``and it's up to the two governments, especially the British government, to ensure that this doesn't happen.''

``The only way we could have an exchange of views with them was to go in and actually talk with them,'' was how Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson dismissed accusations of hypocrisy as he emerged from Long Kesh with Party leader David Trimble, Ken Maginnis and John Taylor. The four had held a a three-hour meeting in the prison with loyalist paramilitaries.

As Sinn Fein representative Gerry Kelly pointed out, ``If Jeffrey Donaldson and party colleagues could go into the H Blocks and speak directly to those loyalist prisoners who killed Catholics, he should be prepared to sit down around the conference table and negotiate with the democratically elected representatives of the nationalist community.''

But the Unionist Party remained adamant. Donaldson said he did not envisage his party sitting down directly with Sinn Fein. ``We don't see any point in engaging in direct negotiations with them,'' said Donaldson.

David Trimble was guarded about his meeting with convicted loyalist paramilitaries, identifying it simply as a ``useful exchange of views.'' Equally circumspect, Ken Maginnis described loyalist prisoners as ``worried'' commenting that the loyalist ceasefire depended on ``fair play'' from the British Government. While John Taylor accused Mowlam of ``going out of her way to side with nationalism''; concessions to Republicans had been ``going on and on,'' said Donaldson.

``What concessions?'' responded SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon. In a newspaper article Brian Feeney, former SDLP councillor put it more strongly. ``The fact is the NIO have given no concessions whatsoever to nationalists. So what's going on? The answer is a very successful campaign by unionists to prevent any change in the North.''

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly also dismissed unionist lists of concessions as ``pretty pathetic.''

``The reality of the current situation is that nationalists are seeking equality and parity both inside and outside of the talks,'' said Kelly, ``we still have not achieved that and there is much work to be done to reverse decades of anti-Catholic discrimination by Jeffrey Donaldson's party.''

The Unionist Party's meeting began minutes after loyalist prisoners confirmed they had withdrawn their support from the Stormont talks.

Emerging from a prior three hour meeting with loyalist prisoners, Gary McMicheal of the Ulster Democratic Party said he wanted his team to return to the negotiations but the loyalist prisoners' refusal to support them could have serious implications. ``Our position at the moment is quite precarious,'' said McMichael.

The prisoners' decision has ``implications for the ceasefire,'' but McMichael assured the media, ``the prisoners have told us they will back any decision taken by the UFF leadership.''

Political representatives of the UVF, David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson, have offered conflicting indications as to whether PUP will be at Stormont on Monday. The party's executive is to meet on Friday to discuss whether to stay in the talks.

Meanwhile, curiously sidelined amid loyalist sabre rattling, the DUP slammed the Unionist Party for meeting loyalist prisoners, accusing Trimble of selling out to terrorism. ``The prison is not the place for Ulster to have its future determined,'' said Ian Paisley Jnr. ``If ever proof was required that the talks delegates have sold out to the terrorist prisoners then it is the events of the last few days.''
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