SPECULATION MOUNTS ON NEW PEACE DEAL
A dramatic political breakthrough in the North could be
imminent as Sinn Fein and representatives of the Irish and
British governments are engaged in a series of meetings this
Movement towards a date for fresh elections to the suspended
Belfast Assembly in November has been fuelled by positive
meetings in recent days between the key players in the peace
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams met Ulster Unionist leader David
Trimble twice last week. This follows meetings between Sinn
Fein and the two governments.
A deal would likely involve the announcement of an election
date, a guarantee that the Assembly will not be collapsed
again, demilitarisation by the British government, and an IRA
move on arms.
Progress on outstanding elements of the 1998 Good Friday
Agreement, including policing reform and the status of
paramilitaries 'on the run' from prosecutions are also
expected to form part of the deal.
The details, including the 'choreography', or timing of the
sequence of events, and the substance of various statements or
announcements, will be the contentious elements for the talks
over the next two weeks.
One factor behind the urgency is the approach of an unofficial
deadline -- the first anniversary next month of the collapse
of the Assembly and power-sharing administration at Stormont.
The yawning political vacuum has allowed a resurgence in
unionist paramilitary violence in recent weeks. The weekend
saw two devices laft at Catholic schools in north Belfast and
Larne, while a couple and their two children, a two-week-old
baby and a four- year-old girl, escaped injury in a petrol
bomb attack in County Antrim on Saturday.
Meanwhile, dissident republicans have continud to extend their
threats against members of new community policing boards
across the Six Counties.
But many analysts also believe that David Trimble is now in a
stronger position to agree on a return to government. His
victory at the Ulster Unionist council meeting earlier this
month, which saw support for his call on three dissident
members of the party to abide by party policy, is being seen
by some as significant.
"The only way I can work with David Trimble is to accept his
word. Whatever happens after that is a matter for the UUP,"
"Trimble has clearly been emboldened by what was a
considerable achievement at the Ulster Unionist council
meeting. There is a need to use that as a springboard before
his opponents get a chance to regroup."
However, Adams stressed that unionists needed to be told that
the Good Friday Agreement was "as good as it gets."
"The price for agreement is all-Ireland political bodies and a
power-sharing structure. There is no other way forward," he
He said that Sinn Fein was "singularly focused" on getting an
election date, and that problems surrounding demilitarisation,
policing, human rights legislation and the International
Monitoring Commission would need to be addressed in the coming
"We are back to the old standards. They need to be resolved as
soon as possible," he said.
But he said that he was ready to work with Trimble towards the
restoration of the institutions in the North, describing
recent meetings as useful.
"We need an election in the North as soon as possible," Adams
"If Tony Blair were to cancel the elections again it would
leave the political process completely and absolutely without
"Nationalists and republicans have quite limited confidence in
the current British government.
"Whatever confidence exists at present would disappear if the
elections were to be postponed again."
IRISH-AMERICAN PUSH FOR ELECTIONS
Meanwhile, intensive lobbying of American congressmen by
Irish-American groups is expected to result in calls by
several US states for a restoration of the Northern electoral
The Massachusetts State Senate has already passed a resolution
calling on British prime minister Tony Blair to set an
election date in the autumn. Maine and Connecticut are
expected to introduce similar bills in the coming weeks.
This follows lobbying by Sinn Fein, the Ancient Order of
Hibernians and the Irish American Unity Conference.
Republicans believe that Blair risks incurring the wrath of
the international community if he fails to call elections.
They claim the British prime minister would find himself in an
untenable situation if he were to allow the political vacuum
to continue indefinitely.
It is thought that he may be finally prepared to concede
elections amid reported tension between Mr Blair and the
'securocrats' in the British military over the handling of
intelligence matters and the Iraq invasion.
The Labour government has seen a sharp decline in support
following a public inquiry into the promotion of misleading
intelligence information on Iraq.
Blair may now be looking to Ireland as a means of shoring up
his image as a peacemaker.
But the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said
more work is necessary before an election date can be set.
"We want elections and we want to try to achieve a working
executive out of those elections," he said.
"Everybody knows what is required but there is no package
agreed at this stage, or even tentatively agreed."
Mark Durkan, of the nationalist SDLP, has called on the
British ghovernment to set an election date and go ahead with
the poll regardless of whether political progress is achieved.
NEW POLITICAL DISPENSATION NEEDED - ADAMS
On Tuesday, Sinn Fein is holding a party conference on
'Building for Irish re-unification', as well as a meeting of
its electoral strategy group.
Speaking ahead of these meetings, Mr Adams spoke of the need
for a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and
a new relationship between Ireland and Britain.
"Sinn Fein's focus has been to see the Good Friday Agreement
fully implemented. Our approach is far-sighted and strategic.
Our republicanism is about change - fundamental, deep-rooted
change. It's about empowering people to make that change.
"Our vision is inclusive. We are committed to establishing an
entirely new, democratic and harmonious future with our
unionist neighbours. And we have still a lot to learn about
the unionist viewpoint, about their concerns, fears and
aspirations. One of the failures thus far of this process is
that there has not been intelligent and pro active listening
by all sides.
"We have to show unionists that Sinn Fein - that Irish
republicanism - is a fundamental part of their future. That
together we can build a future of equals on this island that
empowers, protects and enriches everyone.
"There will be a united Ireland. And our task, and that of all
sensible Irish political leaders, should be to prepare for
"This is a challenge not just for Sinn Fein and republicans
and nationalists but also for the unionist community and
leadership of Unionism."