Bruton sees `window of opportunity' on SF before British poll

 

THE Taoiseach believes thee British government and the political parties will be more flexible about admitting Sinn Fein to the peace talks before rather than after the Westminster elections.

This view, expressed strongly in Washington after Mr Bruton met President Clinton, runs contrary to the conventional one, that the British government and the unionist parties are so fixated on the coming election that they are in no mood to make any concession in the hope of securing an IRA ceasefire.

Mr Bruton responded vigorously to several questions suggesting that it might be better "to keep the all-party talks on hold" until after the British election. He said such a calculation was "not the right one", and there was a "window of opportunity between now and the election that would be more productive if the ceasefire were called immediately".

President Clinton indicated he shared this view with the Taoiseach.

Mr Bruton told reporters at the White House "the risk is that if we lose this opportunity and there's a delay until after a general election, you are into a new political period, where the sort of quick decision-making in regard to the potential admission of Sinn Fein into talks may not be as quick or as easily decided after an election as it might be beforehand."

Mr Bruton explained that an immediate ceasefire" would "set a policy position in regard to Sinn Fein's participation in talks in place before an election, which would carry through into the next British parliament in a much more durable way".

On the other hand, "a postponed ceasefire" until after the election would go into the term of office of a new government, with perhaps a new opposition, and there would be much less certainty about the response.

Mr Bruton denied a suggestion that these remarks could be construed as assuming that the British Prime Minister, Mr Major, had not "much chance of re-election", and that he was hinting that the peace process would move less quickly under the Labour leader, Mr Tony Blair.

"Any election contains the possibility of a change of government", he said and repeated his view that "after an election there will be more of a fixing of position and less fluidity than there is at the moment".

A British reporter asked if the Taoiseach could be seen as "straying into the domestic politics of Britain".

Mr Bruton dismissed this as unfounded. "Everyone knows that the election we're talking about is an election that will also take place in Northern Ireland. It is not possible to talk about the peace process in Northern Ireland without some reference to an election."

When an American reporter persisted in querying the Taoiseach's view about how flexible the British government could be on the conditions for the admission of Sinn Fein to talks even after a ceasefire, he replied:

"You might think that the British government is quite constrained at the present time, but as the election comes closer the British government will also have greater freedom". Politics, the Taoiseach said, is "a very strange profession and it will be at a time when things seem most difficult that you actually have the greatest freedom of movement."