By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein officials have reacted furiously to an assertion from the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, that the peace process may have to be "parked" indefinitely if the IRA doesn’t begin decommissioning.
Trimble has confirmed he will also be seeking Sinn Fein’s expulsion from the process of allocating seats in the proposed ruling Executive. He said a "soft landing" was preferable to a "crash-landing," which, he said, would irreparably damage the peace process.
The British government, however, is expected to trigger the setting up of the Executive on the March 10 deadline, a move announced by the Northern Ireland secretary, Mo Mowlam, following a Privy Council meeting in London to finalize legislation setting it up.
Trimble, however, in a briefing paper sent to Belfast journalists on Friday night, claimed that Mowlam’s powers would not be exercised without the full support of the Ulster Unionists, and this would not be forthcoming without IRA decommissioning.
Adams described Trimble’s comments as "absurd" and said he must "honor his commitments." The value of any political leader was his "ability and willingness to deliver on commitments," said Adams, who denied he wanted Trimble to resign.
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It was the sharpest verbal conflict between the two since the decommissioning row raised its head last year and shows that neither side is compromising or softening its stand, perhaps boding ill for the future of the process.
Meanwhile, the Assembly is due to meet next week to debate a motion of no confidence in its initial presiding officer John Alderdice. The motion was raised by the DUP, which is angry that he agreed to guillotine last Monday’s scheduled discussion on cross-border bodies and the Executive.
Following that, the Assembly is due to meet on Feb. 15 to finally approve the new structures, both internal and cross-border, already agreed last December. After that, the next date of note is March 10, when Britain is scheduled to transfer powers from Westminster to Stormont.
Mowlam, meanwhile, is being urged to suspend all early prisoner releases under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Unionists and Conservatives say there has been an upsurge in paramilitary attacks in both loyalist and republican working-class areas.
A prominent Tory right-winger at Westminster, Andrew Hunter, who is a long-time opponent of the Good Friday Agreement, is threatening to use parliamentary privilege to "name and shame" those allegedly responsible for so-called "punishment attacks."
Both the loyalist fringe groups and Sinn Fein say they have been trying for years to find alternatives to punishment beatings, but their efforts have received scant acceptance or financial assistance from the British government.
Sinn Fein is involved in trying to set up "community restorative justice" projects amid anecdotal evidence that republicans are trying to wean the nationalist community away from expecting the IRA to punish wrongdoers.
Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said punishment beatings were "morally wrong," while David Ervine of the PUP said he urged all those who were angry at anti-social activity to go to the RUC rather than demand action from the paramilitaries.
Loughgall meeting slammed
Stormont, meanwhile, was the scene of another sharp verbal confrontation on Monday when relatives of a group of IRA victims came face-to-face with the families of the nine people shot dead at Loughgall by the SAS.
There were demands for the resignation of Adam Ingram, the Scottish-born MP and security minister in the North, after he agreed to meet the relatives. British Conservatives and Unionist MPs accused Ingram of "dancing on the graves" of IRA victims.
Eight IRA men and one passer-by were shot dead in an SAS ambush at an unmanned RUC station in 1987. The relatives had asked for a meeting to discuss comments made by a DUP man, Paul Berry, who had called for "more Loughgalls" during an Assembly debate late last year.
Trimble said he believed Ingram would achieve nothing by such a meeting except an insult to the victims of the IRA. The British Conservative Party spokesman on Northern Ireland, Andrew Mackay, said it was "disgusting" that he should agree to meet the relatives of "criminals."
Mowlam defended the meeting on the grounds that it was an extension of the British government’s concern about relatives of all victims. She also said it did not mean Ingram endorsed the actions of those who were killed at Loughgall.
As they left the meeting, they were surrounded by angry relatives of IRA victims, who shouted "shame" and "say you’re sorry." Mairead Kelly, whose brother was shot dead in 1987, said her only brother had "meant the world to her" and her grief was the same as everybody else’s.