By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Pressure for sanctions against Sinn Fein for alleged breaches of the IRA cease-fire is continuing to build within the Ulster Unionist Party, although the British government seems reluctant to act.
London appears willing to verbally criticize republicans, with the Northern secretary, John Reid, saying the IRA cease-fire is “not enough,” but the British government shows no sign of responding positively to UUP demands for Sinn Fein punishment.
“The hard fact is that four years after the Belfast agreement, a cease-fire is not enough,” Reid told the House of Commons last week. “We need to see an end to paramilitary attacks, to targeting and to any other such preparations.”
He was echoed by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, who said during a visit to Belfast that all violence must end. Blair, who announced new borrowing powers for the power-sharing Executive, stressed that the new dispensation needs to be underpinned by an end to republican and loyalist paramilitary activity.
“Government is not turning a blind eye to forms of paramilitary activity,” he said. “There has to be an end and the more this process goes on, the more important it is that there is no ambiguity about that.
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“I think the time is coming very, very shortly where it has to be made absolutely clear that there is no halfway house. There is either a total democratic commitment or there isn’t.”
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said, however, that his party would not be blamed for all the alleged IRA activity reported in the newspapers.
“Many republicans are bewildered, perplexed and perturbed at the recent controversies and the sense of uncertainty, which is being fed into the political process,” he said.
“Recently there have been a number of unsubstantiated allegations leveled against the IRA. The IRA has denied these allegations. There have been other stories peddled by sections of the media. All of these reports, whether allegations or myth have a common route out of British intelligence agencies.
“I am not nanve. I know that the process of change is in many ways a process of crisis management. But the IRA’s initiative seems to have sparked off an almost hysterical diet of daily spins from elements within the British system.”
The pressure on First Minister David Trimble to take unilateral action against Sinn Fein increased this week when one of his Assembly anti-agreement back-benchers defected to the DUP. Peter Weir had already lost the whip over his persistent voting against the UUP.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, he said the agreement had resulted in “concession after concession granted to republicanism, leaving unionists demoralized.”
“Instead of being eliminated, the gunmen have been ceded control of the process over governments, international statesmen and local democratic politicians. While the prime minister broke promises, the UUP cannot disguise its own culpability, particularly its desire to partner Sinn Fein in government. . . . The UUP has supported or acquiesced with every concession made.”
As the DUP continues to demand fresh assembly elections, a year early, its legal bid to force a poll has reached the House of Lords. It’s been reported, however, that even if the DUP wins its challenge, the British government will ignore the result.
Responding, the DUP’s Peter Robinson was furious. “This is a quite staggering admission,” he said. “Having flouted the will of the democratically elected parliament at Westminster by ignoring the law last November, the government seems willing to defy the will of the House of Lords — the most senior court in the land.”