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Republicansreject armsdeclaration

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — With the North’s paramilitary groups refusing to decommission their arms, and Sinn Féin having formally rejected the British and Irish governments’ Hillsborough Declaration aimed at ending the impasse, the peace process is quickly sliding deeper into crisis.

Intensive talks began Tuesday and are to continue through the week in an effort to find a way to end the stalemate. But although the British and Irish prime ministers are expected in Belfast to push for a resolution, it’s possible they will conclude there is little they can do and, consequently, stay home.

On Friday, an IRA source told the Echo that the two governments’ draft declaration, published on April 1, which said decommissioning was not a "precondition" but was "obligatory," had "failed to impress."

"We see it representing a failure by both governments to confront the Unionist veto and this has caused anger among republicans," the source said.

This confirms Sinn Féin’s view that the Hillsborough Declaration was an attempt to rewrite the Good Friday agreement, now more than a year old, to satisfy Unionist demands that the IRA give up its weapons.

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Sinn Féin’s chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, announced yesterday that Sinn Féin had formally rejected the Hillsborough Declaration. Last Wednesday, after a meeting of its officer board, Sinn Féin called the declaration unacceptable.

McLaughlin said the document proposed a significant change in the terms of the Good Friday agreement, especially the decommissioning section. In effect, he said, the declaration made the establishment of the institutions contingent on Unionist terms.

This week, Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said he doesn’t believe the IRA will decommission to enable Sinn Féin get places on the power-sharing executive.

He said he was working on the basis that there is no chance whatsoever of the IRA decommissioning anything as a precondition to Sinn Féin taking seats in the executive.

The IRA would not jump to any ultimatum or demand issued by either David Trimble or elements in the British establishment who had hung onto this issue, in what he called an unrealistic and unrealizable way, during the last four years.

Meanwhile, the UUP spokesman, Sir Reg Empey, said his party was reserving judgment on the declaration, which he said was written in unintelligible language that ordinary people could not understand.

The UVF and Red Hand Commando groups have also said they won’t decommission "to get Sinn Féin onto the executive." The two groups have in effect rejected the Hillsborough Declaration’s concept of a collective act of reconciliation in putting some weapons "beyond use."

When asked if it would make any difference to them if the IRA did begin decommissioning, and if this would result in some UVF disarming, the UVF spokesman said it would not.

Sinn Féin sources are increasingly concerned that the two governments will announce a suspension of the Good Friday agreement for the duration of the forthcoming European election campaign and the marching season.

The IRA’s statement throws cold water on earlier British and Irish government hopes that Sinn Féin would at least be prepared to discuss the key element in the declaration in detail.

It also makes it clear that republicans see the proposal for a "collective act of reconciliation" during which some arms would be "put beyond use" as decommissioning by another name.

One Sinn Féin source said, "Hillsborough, in many ways, deepened the crisis because the two governments were clearly seen to favor unilateral and arbitrary unionist demands for a rewrite."

Irish government sources say they had little option when faced with the possibility that UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble would resign if the British government moved to set up an executive before IRA decommissioning started.

However, the SDLP’s deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, has warned that any politician who lets the peace process collapse on the issue of decommissioning will be dealt with harshly by people on the ground.

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