POLITICIANS HEAD FOR U.S.
The focus of efforts to revive the Irish peace process moves to Washington
this week as meetings have been organised in the US Capital for the annual
gathering of Irish political leaders at the Whitehouse. The Taoiseach
Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held several hours
of talks in Dublin last evening. Emphasising the need for urgency, Mr
Ahern said the peace process is faced with ``enormous dangers'' if the
northern power-sharing institutions are not brought back into life quickly.
``The elections were in November. This is March. The worst time of
all is when there is a vacuum. We have no intention of letting it
drift to the local elections, never mind any elections after
that. We really want to deal with it in the next few weeks,'' said
He claimed that the Assembly and the Executive would have
collapsed even if they had been in place before the alleged
attack and attempted kidnapping of the dissident Belfast
republican, Bobby Tohill.
He said the same two significant hurdles that have bedevilled the
peace process - continuing acts of violence by paramilitarism and
doubts about the willingness of Unionists to share power -
remained in the way.
``We want an end to paramilitarism in all its forms. Equally, we
want certainty and clarity about getting an inclusive working
administration,'' Mr Ahern said.
Speaking during a break in their meeting, Mr Blair said the two
governments wanted ``to flush everything out in the open'' in the
talks on the non-implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
that will resume on March 22nd.
The ``basic principles'' had been set out in his 2001 ``acts of
completion'' speech and in paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration
agreed last year by Dublin and London.
All of the political parties, said Mr Blair, want paramilitarism
to end and stable political institutions created. ``We want to
make sure that what everybody has been saying happens. It isn't a
very complicated task.''
The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, will also
be in Washington, though Reg Empey, who may shortly launch a
leadership challenge, will not be joining him.
The Democratic Unionist Party will also send a delegation to
Washington, although they will not take part in the more
high-profile events traditionally associated with St Patrick's
As he prepared to leave Dublin for the U.S., the Sinn Fein
President welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the
Taoiseach's commitment to step up the pace of talks to restore
But the West Belfast MP said: ``The difficulties in the process go
beyond the problems of paramilitarism and the unionists'
commitment to inclusive government as claimed by the Taoiseach
and the British Prime Minister.
``These are important matters and Sinn Fein will continue to work
to see them resolved. But we are also very conscious of the
refusal of the Governments to deliver on their obligations and of
the effect that this has on the overall process.
``People should not underestimate the lack of confidence amongst
republicans about the Governments' commitment to the Good Friday
Agreement at this time,'' said Mr Adams.
In a continuation of the Dublin government's public dispute with
Sinn Fein, Justice Minister Michael McDowell said people should
distinguish between ``genuine republicanism and bogus and
fraudulent arrogation of the term 'republicanism' by people whose
every act deed and instinct demonstrate that they are in reality
the very antithesis of republicans''.
In a speech on the history and meaning of the term
``republicanism'', Mr McDowell said one of the ironies of the term
was ``the extent to which it has been harnessed to a series of
adjectives and descriptions which have done Orwellian violence to
its very meaning''.
The attacks on Sinn Fein by Mr McDowell are not being used to
justify the party's exclusion from the review talks, Mr Ahern
claimed yesterday. He said he was trying to do just the opposite.
``I know we have had some hard and harsh words. I know it is
because of the Tohill case. I am not responsible for the Tohill
case,'' he said.
But it was unacceptable, he said, to have ``people having a drink
on a Friday evening and getting 92 stitches because of political
It has been reported that the Independent Monitoring Commission
will produce a report into the Tohill incident ahead of schedule