Opposition parties unite to hail breakthrough

 

A WARM welcome greeted the Anglo Irish communique in Dublin with opposition parties uniting to hail the document as a breakthrough in the peace process.

On his return from London last night, the Taoiseach was met with a round of applause in the Dail Chamber where he promptly called on the IRA to "accept the will of the people on both of these islands" and end their campaign of violence.

Shortly after disembarking from the Government jet, he said he hoped for a quick reinstatement of the ceasefire, adding that it should be one "which would show there is no prospect of a return to violence".

A ceasefire would grant Sinn Fein immediate access to talks and it now confronted a moment which may not be available to it soon again if ever.

He also called on the unionist parties to respond generously to the process. No agreement could be reached without them and the majority community had the least to fear and potentially the most to gain from all party negotiations.

Describing the joint communique as a historic opening for the peace and reconciliation that everyone sought, the Taoiseach also emphasised in the Dail that there was no qualification for participation in talks apart from "a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and that they abide by the democratic process".

He stressed the elective process would lead "immediately and without further precondition to the convening of all party negotiations with a comprehensive agenda".

He identified the Joint Frame work Document as the necessary focus and direction for all party negotiations.

While welcoming the latest developments, the Fianna Fail leader, Mr Bertie Ahern, sought clarification on a number of issues and was sceptical of the elective process.

He was "puzzled" that, in Paragraph 9 of the communique, only the Taoiseach was required to be satisfied that the nature of an elective process had to be within the three stranded structure.

I would like clarification on this, as adherence to the three strands is vital," he added.

What was agreed yesterday should have been done a long time ago and it was a very great pity that a major crisis and breakdown appeared necessary to inject a real sense of urgency into political progress, Mr Ahern said.

Urging the IRA to reinstate the ceasefire "and I expect that it will be" he pledged Fianna Fail's utmost efforts to ensure Sinn Fein was treated fairly and in a non discriminatory manner in relation to their participation in future negotiations.

"As the main democratic republican party in this country, committed to the ultimate goal of an Irish unity achieved in peace by agreement, we are quite confident of the Irish people's ability to move forward and if necessary fight their political battles by exclusively political and democratic means, however long it takes, no matter what obstacles are placed in the way by others. There are no short cuts," he added.

Critical of what he called the British government's mishandling of the process, he praised the loyalist paramilitaries for restraint.

The IRA would make "a huge mistake" by resuming its campaign and the British government and unionists would be seriously misreading the situation if they tried again to "up their demands".

He urged the British government to adopt a more enlightened approach to the area of prisoners.

Ms Mary Harney, leader of the Progressive Democrats, commended the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister for "creating this sensitive and balanced formula for reviving the peace process". The IRA ceasefire must be reinstated and made secure before Sinn Fein could be admitted to talks, she added.

It was not clear from the communique that the restoration of the ceasefire was essential before commencement of the June 10th talks, she claimed.

The chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr Michael Bell, also expressed the hope that yesterday's announcement would be quickly followed by a renewed IRA ceasefire.