TALKING AND SHOUTING
An escalating dispute between Sinn Fein and the Dublin government
is threatening the already weakened peace process.
The Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has been urged to "put
up or shut up" after he claimed on Irish radio that senior Sinn
Fein members sit on the Provisional IRA Army Council and that
other Sinn Fein members have been involved in criminal activity
at Dublin Port.
Mr McDowell's comments drew an immediate angry response from Sinn
Fein's chief negotiator, Mr Martin McGuinness, who called on the
Minister to substantiate the claims.
"I am not going to stand by and listen to this rubbish from
someone who calls himself an Irish Government Minister," Mr
McGuinness said. "I hear him making other allegations and I say
to him either put it up or shut it up.
"It's very well to make accusations, but it is a whole other
thing to substantiate those allegations. I think Michael McDowell
needs to remember that he is the Minister for Justice. He is not
the Minister for Judges and he is certainly not the Minister for
The bitter war of words between Mr McDowell and Sinn Fein clearly
has its roots in the looming European and local elections. Sinn
Fein has said it is on course to make significant gains,
including the capture of a seat in the European parliament in
Dublin and the Six Counties.
In an interview this morning the Minister for Justice said:
"There are senior figures from Sinn Fein on the Army Council and
you may take that for a fact. I am talking about household names
. . . The Army Council of the IRA dictates the strategy for the
whole Provisional movement . . . and it [Sinn Fein] takes its
line from the Army Council", said Mr McDowell.
During the same interview, the Minister for Justice also repeated
his analogy of Sinn Fein being like the Nazi party.
"A movement which embraces both violence and the ballot box at
the same time is very analogous to the Nazis. I most certainly
say that the Provisional Movement of which they are leading
figures is having it both ways in relation to violence and
He said the Provisional Movement, of which Sinn Fein was a part,
had to make a "clear choice, politics or violence".
An incandescent Martin McGuinness accused the Dublin minister of
being "anti-working class" and "anti-republican".
Mr McGuinness added that the comments were "electioneering by a
desperate, ignorant and irrational politician".
There also appeared to be a difference of view between Mr
McDowell and the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern,
who said he agreed that the Provisional IRA has been involved in
criminality at Dublin Port, but that he was not aware if Sinn
Fein members were on the Provisional IRA Army Council.
Mr McDowell's lack of evidence, and the clear absence of charges
against any Sinn Fein member, bemused the other opposition
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called on the Minister to clarify his
claims and queried the contradiction between his claims and the
Mr Kenny said he had sought a parliamentary debate on the issue
on four separate occasions and would do so again this week.
He said Mr McDowell had "a constitutional duty to act on this or
on any other similar activity that he is aware of."
TALKS GO ON
Meanwhile, amid the war of words, talks to revive the peace
process are continuing.
Bertie Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, are
to discuss the political deadlock at a meeting in Dublin on
The Democratic Unionist Party told British Prime Minister Tony
Blair today he must punish Sinn Fein for the recent alleged
abduction attempt by the IRA in Belfast.
Speaking after meeting Mr Blair in Downing Street today, DUP
leader Ian Paisley said: "It was our business to put to the prime
minister in a very strong manner the fact that the people of
Northern Ireland are looking for action on the matter before them
of the IRA and their actions on the streets of Belfast.
"Putting this on the long finger to May is not acceptable to us
Mr Ahern, in a series of media interviews, described Thursday's
meeting as "an important one".
He said that they had to plan just how they were going to get a
working executive and working institutions back in the North.
He told reporters that while things might not happen "in a week
or two" there could be progress "in a month or two".
But it is difficult to see how the process could be revived in
the teeth of June's local and European elections on both sides of
Mr Ahern used the Fianna Fail annual conference over the weekend
to again call on the Republican Movement to bring about "the
complete retirement of all paramilitary activity".
He said: "There can be no halfway house between democracy and
Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that the Taoiseach
would be better off facing up to his responsibilities instead of
constantly hectoring Irish republicans.
"We are certainly not going to accept lectures from a government
that has walked away from its responsibilities in relation to the
peace process," said McLaughlin.
"The Good Friday Agreement is not some sacred piece of paper to
be supported in theory. It is an international Agreement, which
was massively endorsed not just by nationalist Ireland, but the
vast majority of people in Ireland six years ago and which the
two governments are committed to implementing in full.
"But instead of doing this, they have walked away from their
commitments, suspended the political institutions, failed to move
on equality, human rights, demilitarization, policing, northern
representation, Irish language and many other issues.
"We all want the Good Friday Agreement to work, but it will only
work if all of those responsible for implementing it face up to
their responsibilities and that includes the Irish government."
* The nationalist SDLP has chosen the Belfast Mayor Martin Morgan
to contest the Six-County constituency for the European
Parliament election in June.
Morgan, a North Belfast councillor and a relative hardliner in
the party, won on the third vote at a meeting in Cookstown,
County Tyrone, on Saturday.