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19 October 2000 Edition

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British commitment to Agreement in doubt

BY MICHAEL PIERSE

As we go to print, Peter Mandelson is set to table amendments to the Police Bill, for consideration next week in the British House of Lords, which are likely to fall considerably short of the demands made by Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

Mandelson's lack of flexibility on the issue will be seen as an attemp to placate unionists opposed to the Good Friday Agreement in advance of the UUP meeting on 28 October. It is also likely to lead to a serious loss of faith by nationalists and republicans in the sincerity of British strategy.

Earlier this week, Sinn Féin policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, said that while he is ``confident that the IRA will honour its commitments'', he has serious doubts over whether the British Government is prepared to implement key aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. ``The real question is about the British Government's commitment to its joint letter and statement with the Dublion government of 5 May,'' he said.

``Proof of the IRA's commitment came when it opened its dumps to inspection by two international statesmen, despite the British government's failure to deliver on its obligations at that time. This was an historic and unprecedented initiative for the IRA.''

Kelly said that the IRA move had surprised many republicans and nationalists, especially given the manner in which the British government had binned the positive de Chastelain report of 11 February and then collapsed the institutions.

``Those institutions were re-established on the back of initiatives by republicans,'' he continued. ``If this process was dependent on British or unionist initiatives it would have died a long time ago.''

The choreography employed in the run-up to the meeting of the UUP's ruling body, it seems, will run roughly along the lines of yet another rendition of the ``poor David, save him from that nasty No Camp'' theme. David Trimble himself has issued a strong-worded warning that his party will take as yet unspecified action in the absence of IRA decommissioning. Republicans have argued that he is prioritising a demand that is not a part of the Good Friday Agreement, over and above those that are, such as policing, demilitarisation and the promotion of the equality agenda.

``The day after the IRA announced its initiative, Gerry Adams pointed out that `the tolerance threshold amongst republicans for messing by the British government and/or the unionists is very low','' said Kelly.

``While he expressed the view that most republicans will `give this initiative a fair wind', he warned that he could not exaggerate the internal pressures on the IRA leadership.

``The courage and magnitude of the IRA's initiative was further underlined when the Confidence Building Measure took place, despite the British government failing to keep its May commitments on Policing and Demilitarisation. Clearly, the IRA moved ahead anyway because it wants the peace process to succeed.''

Kelly said that there are those within the unionist `No' camp and within the British system who are trying to create a ``bogus crisis'' around the inspections of IRA arms dumps. ``Both governments are also expressing concern about the future of David Trimble's leadership of the UUP. While Sinn Féin also is willing to do whatever we can, to consolidate the pro-Agreement section of unionism, this cannot be at the cost of changing the Good Friday Agreement.

``The British government has already made that mistake.''

Any expectations that the IRA will conform to the demands of `No' camp unionism are extremely unrealistic, Kelly said. ``Nor can Sinn Féin shoe-horn the IRA to take initiatives within deadlines which are being set by those within unionism who are against the Good Friday Agreement.

``For my part I remain confident that the IRA will honour its commitments. The history of the process shows that it will do so on its own timeframe - not in response to deadlines from others who have failed to keep their commitments.''

While Peter Mandelson says he expects the IRA to repeat its confidence building measure now, it is in fact republican confidence in the British Government that needs to be bolstered, Kelly believes. ``Mr Mandelson knows the context for the IRA initiative. This is contained in the 5 May Joint letter and statement from the two governments. He also knows that Gerry Adams met with him and the British Prime Minister during the summer to warn against London dragging out the delivery of its commitments until now. He and Mr Blair and their advisers will recall that Gerry Adams pointed out the difficulties for everyone, if the British failed to deliver their commitments or were slow to do so,'' Kelly insisted.

Kelly said that his view was that, if the British Government had kept its side of the May agreement, the confidence building measure would have been repeated by now and the re-engagement with de Chastelain would have proceeded. ``It remains my view that these developments will occur,'' he said.

``This is a time for calm management of the process. There is no point in the main partners to the Good Friday Agreement reacting to the agenda being set by the `No' unionists. Neither is there any point in trying to blame republicans for the current state of the process.

``Our conviction that the gun will be taken out of Irish politics is a matter of public record and Sinn Féin continues to work for that objective. I value the silence of the IRA guns. When compared with the loyalist killing spree and remilitarisation by British forces, the discipline of the IRA is remarkable.

``Unionists should listen to the IRA when it says that it is no threat to the peace process. The IRA keeps its commitments. That is one of the certainties of this process.''
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