IRA must agree on arms issue before talks, say unionists


THE IRA would have to agree to decommissioning and sign up to the six Mitchell principles before they could engage with Sinn Fein in all party talks, the two main unionist parties have signalled.

The UUP leader, Mr David Trimble, said that from the outset of all party negotiations Sinn Fein would have to agree to decommissioning and accept the Mitchell principles, which demand a total and absolute commitment to peaceful means of resolving political issues.

"If they don't do that which I think is highly probable because I can't see them agreeing to that then they are left behind, and the other parties proceed." Mr Trimble said last night.

Substantive talks involving Sinn Fein could only take place, of course, in the event of an IRA ceasefire, he added. Mr Trimble also expressed reservations about the proposed referendums North and South of the Border to be held in tandem with an election.

The DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, said the IRA's military machine must be dismantled before Sinn Fein could engage in all party negotiations. "My party will not sit down and negotiate with IRA/Sinn Fein or any organisation retaining their terrorist arsenals."

Sinn Fein had not repudiated the use of violence for political ends, which put it firmly outside any all party talks process. Dr Paisley said Dublin could have no say in any referendum held in the North, or link it to a parallel referendum in the Republic.

Mr Peter Robinson, the DUP deputy leader, described the communique as a "holding operation". There was still much work to be done before a clear path ahead was established. The type of impending election and the method of negotiation still had to be defined, he said.

The DUP felt a system whereby people would vote for parties rather than politicians was the best method of election, although it was prepared to consider alternative suggestions.

Dr John Alderdice, the Alliance Party leader, said he was both relieved and enthusiastic about the communique's contents. The two governments had produced a fair and balanced package which would enable progress towards a political settlement.

"I hope that this agreement can also help to bring about an IRA ceasefire, and I would urge Sinn Fein and others to encourage the IRA to bring about a permanent end to their violence.

"The two prime ministers have laid it on the line for the republican movement either they can be part of the process or they can continue their self exclusion and marginalisation", he said.

Mr Seamus Close, Alliance's deputy leader, said that based on the Bruton Major proposals there was no reason why the IRA could not immediately declare a new cessation of violence.