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6 March 1997 Edition

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Reply to Bruton on consent

Recent remarks by John Bruton directed at Sinn Féin have been replied to by spokespersons for the party in the past week. On Monday 3 March Bruton addressed the issue of consent and accused Sinn Féin of seeking to coerece unionists. On a more positive note he called for a timeframe for talks. We carry here Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty's response.

The question for all of us who want to see a real peace process of negotiations is how this can be achieved now. Anyone genuinely interested in rebuilding the peace process will be encouraged by the Taoiseach's renewed commitment to substantive talks but to be truly substantive these talks must also be inclusive.

As Mr Bruton is aware Sinn Féin is the chosen representative of 15.7% of Northern voters. Sinn Féin has not excluded itself from talks. We have consistently asserted the rights of our voters to have their views articulated in any talks about their future and will continue to do so.

There is a danger that others, who have blocked the movement to negotiations, will take increasing comfort from some of Mr Bruton's comments and not only interpret them as a slacking off of the Irish government's resolve to secure a meaningful process which has the potential for real change, but will also use them to create a new precondition.

Mr Bruton's comments demanding that Sinn Féin ``reconsider its position on the issue of consent'' and linking consent to the question of decommissioning must be challenged. Sinn Féin's position on the issue of consent is clear. We have consistently said that the consent and alleigance of unionists is needed to secure a peace settlement.

Consent cannot be misinterpreted or twisted to provide a veto to unionists. There can be no veto over negotiations nor over the outcome of negotiations. Veto is a negative concept. We have seen how unionists have used the veto to prevent talks starting and have even used it to halt any progess in the Stormont talks since June. To assure unionists a veto over talks and their outcome means that talks will never go anywhere.

The positive principle of consent, of seeking consent, of negotiating consent, of agreeing consent, cannot be distorted in advance of negotiations, into a unionist veto over negotiations or their outcome. Furthermore holding a different view on the interpretation of consent, or any other issue, is not a threat of political coercion and it is disingenuous to make such a claim.

The Irish government's position is that there can be no predetermined outcome. To misuse the issue of consent in this way renders meaningless the search for agreement through negotiations. The means of measuring agreement is clearly a logical follow-on from the reaching of agreement. It should therefore, await the necessary political process of democratic negotiations.

Sinn Féin's position is that the urgent necessity to rebuild the peace process should not be closed down because of imminent elections. Mr Bruton in suggesting that a timeframe or calendar for talks would be sensible has identified one of the issues that must be addressed if a credible talks process is to develop. I hope this singals Mr Bruton's willingness to give the pro-active leadership that is required if we are to rebuild this process.

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