Brinkmanship prompted IRA statement

 

The IRA statement last night followed a delicate game of brinkmanship during talks on Saturday between the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.

On Saturday Mr Ahern bluntly told them he would not agree to the publication of the Irish and British governments' joint declaration unless the IRA offered greater clarity.

Later the Taoiseach met the leader of the SDLP, Mr Mark Durkan, the party's policing spokesman, Mr Alex Atwood, and the former Northern Ireland minister, Ms Bríd Rodgers.

Mr McGuinness repeated the demand for publication of the joint declaration several times during the meeting.

The meetings between Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and the Taoiseach took place in his Drumcondra constituency office in Dublin.

The Taoiseach also spoke by telephone with the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair. In a joint statement later, the two men said they "still hoped to be able to release the joint declaration shortly".

Emphasising the "collective responsibility" for implementing the Belfast Agreement, the two leaders said they were absolutely committed to upholding and implementing it in full.

The tough talks on Saturday illustrate the tensions that have emerged between the Government and Sinn Féin over the last week as the deadline for the Assembly elections approaches.

The Irish Times understands that the Taoiseach was so unhappy with progress last week that he warned Sinn Féin 24 hours in advance that he would not travel to Hillsborough for last Wednesday's scheduled meeting with Mr Blair.

Indeed, Mr Ahern made clear his determination not to travel even before he had discussed the point with Mr Blair, who had a softer position on the issue, sources commented.

However, the Government's decision not to publicise Mr Ahern's willingness to call off the meeting led senior Sinn Féin figures to believe wrongly that he would not carry out his threat to cancel the engagement.

Questioned following Saturday's meeting, Mr McGuinness said it was "unthinkable" that the two governments would refuse to publish their joint declaration so that all sides could respond, including the IRA.

Following Sinn Féin's meeting with the Taoiseach, Mr McGuinness said "exhaustive discussions and negotiations" have taken place for months with the Irish and British governments on the text of the joint declaration.

The publication of the joint declaration should happen as a matter of urgency, Mr McGuinness said. "It is absolutely vital that the public should see there is no further delay," he said.

Its publication would allow the political parties and "armed groups, including the IRA" to comment on its contents. Meanwhile, the Government has made it clear it will not agree to a further postponement of the Assembly elections, now due on May 29th.

Despite some British fears about going ahead without a deal, Mr Ahern believes all the parties, especially Sinn Féin, would be embarrassed to canvass for votes for a body that would not meet.