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11 September 1997 Edition

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Sinn Féin enter talks

`The business of peace is the business of justice'


by Laura Friel

Sinn Féin's entry into the Stormont talks was described as ``a defining moment in history'', by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams as he led an eight-strong team into Belfast's Castle Buildings last Tuesday 9 September. Arriving at Stormont shortly after 11am, Adams told the waiting media that Sinn Fein wanted to see all parties engaged in the talks process and urged the British government ``to move forward into substantive discussions on all core issues''.

``We especially want to see the Unionists joining with the rest of us in working out a future based on justice and lasting peace,'' said Adams. Inside Castle Buildings, Sinn Féin took their places at the negotiating table. Senator Mitchell and representatives from the British and Dublin government were present together with members of the SDLP, Alliance and Women's Coalition but all five unionist parties stayed away.

There were no papers signed or formal words as Gerry Adams, on behalf of Sinn Féin, affirmed the Mitchell Principles. In doing so, Adams was reiterating Sinn Féin's position, announced over a year ago, that the party would affirm the Principles within the context of meaningful negotiations and on the same basis as all other participants,. ``I am very pleased and welcome the opportunity to affirm these principles on behalf of Sinn Féin,'' said Adams. Drawing attention to Sinn Féin's submission to the International Body on Decommissioning, published January 1996, Adams pointed out that ``Sinn Féin's attitude goes much further than the Mitchell Principles''.

``Unfortunately the British government narrowed the brief of the Mitchell International Body, imposing a sectional and selective view of the arms issue. We want a total demilitarisation of the situation,'' Adams said. Sinn Féin would ``look to the two governments'' to ensure that the decommissioning issue ``would not be a block here or in the negotiations.''

Reminding the British that Sinn Fein was ``here on the basis of our electoral mandate to put forward our Irish Republican analysis'', Adams admonished the London government, citing ``serious breaches'' by those who signed up to the Principles last June. Those breaches included; the violence of the British army and the RUC inflicted on small nationalist communities, particularly on the Garvaghy Road; the firing of thousands of plastic bullets; flagrant and repeated breaches of the loyalist ceasefires and threats of violence by the unionist leadership, particularly around the marching issue.

The Sinn Fein President went on to highlight the role of British Military Intelligence in the conflict, arming and organising loyalist death squads through their agent Brian Nelson. Citing West Belfast as an example, Adams said nationalists had not seen any lessening of British forces patrolling their streets. ``We were under surveillance from a helicopter this morning as we prepared to come here. The business of peace is the business of justice,'' he said.

Describing the talks process as ``a challenge, a testing process for us all'', Adams continued: ``I am disappointed that there are some empty chairs. I hope the Unionist leaders can be here as soon as possible and we can find a way to get agreement that reflects the diversity of all our people. I would like the process to be transparent. I would like all the people of this island to take possession of it. They have a vested interest in a lasting peace and the issues involved are too important to be left to the people in this room. If we can find a way to get a process which is organic, which is dynamic we can move forward.''
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