By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s representative on the international body on decommissioning, said Tuesday that the IRA is not prepared to hand over arms, even as a good-faith gesture.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s "Today" program, he also warned of growing disillusionment among nationalists with the Good Friday peace agreement.
"I think many people will be very disillusioned that the Oct. 31 deadline has failed, that Mr. Trimble has been allowed to get away with cherry picking the Good Friday agreement," he said, referring to Northern Ireland first minister, David Trimble. "I think if the situation continues, as Mr. Trimble has indicated it will, until the spring of next year, many people within the nationalist community will be of the opinion that the agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on."
Pressed over why the IRA won’t start handing over a few weapons to break the logjam, he said: "I’ll give you a good reason. The IRA won’t do it. That’s the reason."
Trimble and other unionists in the assembly are demanding that IRA begin decommissioning its arms before setting up of a power-sharing executive that includes Sinn Fein.
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"Unfortunately this issue is being used by the unionists as a blocking mechanism, principally because they don’t want Sinn Fein on the executive," McGuinness said. "They don’t want a Fenian about the place."
Emerging from a meeting Monday night with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: "The very fact that the IRA has taken its weapons out of commission, is on cessation and is maintaining that cessation despite killings by the loyalists, despite the activities of the British forces on the ground, despite the refusal of the unionists to keep their commitment, I think is proof of the good will of the IRA to make this peace process work."
Adams appealed for a direct intervention to persuade the unionists to drop their demand for prior IRA decommissioning. He told Blair that only if both the British and Irish prime ministers, along with Irish-American influence, came together would the unionists shift their demand, which was effectively blocking progress toward implementing the Good Friday peace agreement.
Grassroots republican opinion also remains firmly against any decommissioning and shows no sign of wavering. There appears to be little support for even a token gesture on disarming. Graffiti on the Falls Road sums it up: "Remember Bombay Street — not one bullet," referring to a neighborhood burned down by loyalists in 1969.
UFF rethinks peace
Meanwhile, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the loyalist paramilitary group allied to the Ulster Democratic Party led by Gary McMichael, says its members are beginning to question the peace process.
The UFF statement echoes what the UDP said last week about British Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam’s objection to the freeing of one of its top commanders, John Adair, a Shankill Road loyalist jailed for 16 years after being convicted of directing terrorism.
The statement said Adair has repeatedly supported the peace process and it accused the Northern Ireland Office of double standards, saying the peace process seems to be purely "republican orientated."
Adair is challenging Mowlam’s decision and an oral hearing will be arranged soon where he can contest the ruling not to release him. More than 50 other UFF prisoners have so far been freed.
Mowlam gave as her reason that she feared Adair would join a loyalist group not on cease-fire, but John White — the UDP’s prisons spokesman — said he was angry and that the decision put his party’s support for the agreement under threat.
There were two passionately emotional and sometimes bitter meetings in North and West Belfast with the Independent Commission on Policing last Wednesday and Thursday. At the largest, about a thousand people packed into a public hall in the west of the city to demand disbandment of the RUC.
Speaker after speaker said the RUC was guilty of murder, abuse of law, collusion with loyalists and systematic sectarianism to uphold the state. The commission’s chairman, Chris Patten, said the meeting was civil, although he appeared impatient with the bitterness and asked people to show more of a spirit of reconciliation.
Every speaker, many of whom had lost relatives or claimed to have been beaten by the RUC, said the force was discredited and would never be accepted in by nationalists. Only one hand was raised when a speaker asked the meeting if anyone believed the commission’s report would favor nationalists.
Sinn Fein, meanwhile, has rejected an invitation to meet the RUC chief constable to discuss the future of policing. Ronnie Flanagan had said he was prepared to meet the party to discuss its view on the future of the RUC.
Sinn Fein said it was not prepared to meet what it called "the boss of a totally discredited and irreformable force." The party said it would instead meet the British government, the Independent Commission on Policing and the community at large.
A sinister development came in the days after the meeting in north Belfast, close to where Brian Service was shot down a week previously, when two people who’d spoken out at the meeting were told by the RUC that their private security details were in the hands of loyalists.
Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein said nationalists should remain "highly vigilant" amid fears of more attacks by a ruthless splinter loyalist group, the Red Hand Defenders, which uses the Old Testament to justify attacks on Catholics.
Meanwhile, much more work needs to be done to end religious discrimination in Northern Ireland, according to the latest annual report of the Fair Employment Commission. Its chairman, Sir Bob Cooper, said, however, that a lot had been achieved since legislation on fair employment was introduced 21 years ago.
The FEC’s annual report shows that the Catholic share of the workforce now stands at 38.8 percent, an increase of almost four percentage points since 1990. Catholics, however, continue to be more than twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants.