IRA might restore its ceasefire if there is no decommissioning precondition - McGuinness


SINN FEIN has suggested that the IRA might restore its ceasefire. However, Mr Martin McGuinness said that for that to happen the British Prime Minister would have to ensure that next month's all party talks would be "meaningful" and without a precondition of weapons decommissioning.

Speaking on London Weekend Television's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, Mr McGuinness said he was "absolutely passionate" that all party talks on June 10th should take place in a peaceful atmosphere".

But he stressed that it would be "absolutely disastrous" if unionists and the British government insisted the IRA decommission its weapons as a precondition to entering talks.

"What I am saying is that I think a ceasefire can be best achieved if we can get a very clear, unambiguous statement from the British Prime Minister stating that what is to begin on June 10th are real, meaningful peace negotiations, that the decommissioning issue is not going to be an obstacle and that the unionists are not going to be allowed to play the roles of bogy with all of us.

"If the British government are prepared to say that, and if the British government are prepared to accept the reality that the decommissioning issue isn't going to be resolved that easily but has to be linked to the resolution of the causes of the conflict in Ireland, if we can get that, then I think we can go again to the IRA and attempt to persuade them.

"The important thing about all of that is that I actually believe the IRA are open to persuasion.

"I think that the IRA, when they called their ceasefire in August 1994, which they maintained for some 18 months, clearly showed their seriousness and their commitment to the search for a resolution of the conflict in Ireland," he said.

Mr McGuinness accused the British government of using the decommissioning issue as a "diversion" which had blocked any real progress in the peace process.

"This is a diversion created by the British government on an issue which should never have been allowed to block the move to real negotiations in Ireland.

"And I think many people in Britain - and certainly the vast majority of people in Ireland - are very seriously disturbed that the British government during the course of all that time failed us all," he said.

After praising the Tanaiste's "important role" in the peace process, Mr McGuinness said he welcomed Mr Spring's suggestion that the decommissioning issue be resolved in parallel, but separate, negotiations to all party talks.

He said that it was "quite interesting" that the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, supported the proposal.

Mr McGuinness added that the idea should be explored because it "may be a useful contribution" to ensuring that a "holistic approach" is adopted to the peace process and to the removal of all guns from Irish politics.

"Sinn Fein is absolutely prepared to commit itself to going to the negotiating table on the back of our belief that it has to be a democratic settlement, that all the parties have to be exclusively committed to peaceful means," he added.

However, Mr McGuinness argued that an agreed time frame of between six to nine months should be imposed on the June 10th talks to ensure "real and meaningful" negotiations occur.

"Obviously it would be ludicrous to say to people you are going to go to the negotiating table and this will take as long as it takes and of course the unionists, who have behaved very negatively in all of this, will attempt to stretch that out forever.

"I think that many people in Ireland and Britain would accept ... that a time period of between six and nine months would be quite reasonable to expect all of the politicians and the two governments to tackle all of the issues," he said.

Mr McGuinness also suggested that the IRA may not have ended its ceasefire if Mr Major had personally addressed it or met the Sinn Fein leader, Mr Gerry Adams.

"I thought that would have been a very, very important development. I think it would have broadened Mr Major's horizons and it would have deepened his understanding about the situation," he added.

After stating that he was "devastated" by the Canary Wharf bombing, Mr McGuinness said he had "no idea whatsoever" whether the IRA intended to bomb London again before the start of all party talks.

"All that I can say to the people of this city [London] is that I am prepared to do everything in my power and ... everything that has happened in my country over the course of the last 800 years to an end," he added.