McGuinness says ceasefire is necessary for "real" talks


MR Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein has conceded that a renewed IRA ceasefire must be secured if "real and meaningful" all party negotiations are to be facilitated next month.

He also indicated yesterday that the Mitchell scheme for decommissioning would present no obstacle for Sinn Fein, but urged the British government to acknowledge that a resolution of the paramilitary arms issue must be linked to comprehensive agreement on the core political issues.

The significant personal intervention by Mr McGuinness, made on a nationwide British television programme, represents the first admission by an influential Sinn Fein figure that the talks due to start on June 10th cannot make real progress unless peace is securely established.

It comes as a brief but intensive election campaign gets into full swing this week, in parallel with delicate political overtures to establish ground rules for the opening session of the talks.

On London Weekend's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, Mr McGuinness said he "passionately" believed that the political negotiations must take place in a peaceful environment.

He hinted strongly that a reinstatement of the IRA ceasefire could be achieved if three clear commitments were put on the record by the British government.

The first requirement, he indicated, was a "clear, unambiguous statement" from the British prime minister that the talks would constitute "real and meaningful negotiations".

The second requirement was a signal that the decommissioning issue would not be made an obstacle in the negotiations. And, the third was a guarantee that unionists would not be permitted to fudge or obstruct progress, "to play the reels of bogy", as he put it.

Mr McGuinness asserted that Sinn Fein was willing to address the Mitchell formula "constructively and imaginatively". He insisted, however, that the all party negotiations needed to take place within an agreed time frame: a period of from six to nine months would be reasonable, he suggested.

In a separate interview at the weekend, the Sinn Fein president Mr Gerry Adams, articulated his party's fears that unionists would attempt to stymie negotiations by playing off the decommissioning issue as a condition for headway.

He said: "David Trimble says there is not going to be any movement on talks until there is an actual decommissioning. What David Trimble is saying is there aren't going to be any talks."

The remarks by Mr McGuinness, who headed Sinn Fein's delegation at Stormont talks last year, are seen as greatly increasing the likelihood that former Senator George Mitchell may be invited to re enter the process in some key role. The UUP has recently indicated it is willing to consider how he could contribute to the process, particularly in regard to achieving actual decommissioning of arms.

Yesterday's remarks by Mr McGuinness confirm that Sinn Fein would also work with Mr Mitchell, even though the terms of his report embody stringent and binding commitments to the repudiation of all violence.

Given the cross party respect commanded by Mr Mitchell and his report (except, so far, with the DUP), the British and Irish governments are expected to redouble efforts this week to devise an acceptable formula for Mr Mitchell's return to the peace process.

Such a proposition could become the first concrete election issue.