Date for all party talks provides paramilitary "moment of truth"

 

PARAMILITARY organisations now face "a moment of truth" as the British and Irish leaders launch the Northern Ireland parties on the path to all party negotiations set for a fixed date, June 10th.

After months of dispute, the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, and the British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, joined forces yesterday to issue a powerful challenge to Sinn Fein and the IRA, "to make Sinn Fein's participation in the process of such negotiations possible".

Entry to those negotiations, they declared in a joint communique, would require "total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non violence set out in the report of the International Body".

The communique made it clear that parties wishing to join the negotiating process would have to address the other confidence building measures - including proposals on decommissioning - contained in the Mitchell report.

The communique also spelt out the obligation on unionist parties to provide reassurance - to Sinn Fein and other parties joining the process - "that a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations is genuinely being offered to address the legitimate concerns of their traditions and the need for new political arrangements with which all can identify".

In trenchant and defiant terms, the Taoiseach and Prime Minister "unreservedly condemned the murderous IRA attack in London's Docklands and subsequent acts of terrorism".

Mr Seamus Mallon, the deputy leader of the SDLP, hailed yesterday's agreement as a moment of truth for all paramilitaries.

The long awaited Anglo Irish summit enabled the two leaders to create a process leading "directly and without preconditions to all party negotiations on June 10th 1996".

At their Downing Street press conference, Mr Bruton and Mr Major said that process would begin next Monday, with a 10 day period of "intensive multilateral consultations" between the governments and the relevant parties.

Mr Major and Mr Bruton will review those talks immediately after their expiry date of March 13th. And if agreement is not reached, the British government will bring forward enabling legislation "based on a judgment on what seems most broadly acceptable".

The hope of both governments last night was that the immediacy of the intensive talks and their extensive remit would put pressure on the IRA to restore the ceasefire.

The talks, which are expected to take place at Stormont, will be held on whichever configuration the parties wish.

The Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists gave a guarded welcome to yesterday's announcement in the House of Commons.