Bruton says credible ceasefire is needed to allow SF to join talks


A CREDIBLE IRA ceasefire could mean Sinn Fein joining the multiparty talks on Northern Ireland by the end of next January, the Taoiseach told the House.

Mr Bruton quoted from his remarks at Downing Street on Monday, when he made it clear that if the IRA called an unequivocal ceasefire, in words that were believable, and providing there was nothing done inconsistent with the ceasefire, or with the Mitchell principles, then Sinn Fein should be admitted to the talks.

He recalled he had said that if those conditions were met, he hoped to see Sinn Fein involved in the talks early in the new year. "By early in the new year, I mean towards the end of January.

Mr Bruton was replying to the Fianna Fail leader, Mr Bertie Ahern, who said that the request of Sinn Fein and its political leaders was to find an entry into the talks with certainty. The Government and all parties in the House wanted to see a ceasefire and an end to punishment beatings and training of IRA recruits.

But to achieve that, the IRA was looking for some certainty that there would not be a repeat of what happened the last time a ceasefire was declared. It was a belief in August 1994 that talks would start some time in the future, whether it was going to take three or four months. Nobody believed that it would take 7 months.

Mr Bruton said the IRA should call a ceasefire now. "They have a golden opportunity to allow Sinn Fein take part in talks, a far better opportunity than existed in August 1994. They have a talks process in existence. They have an independent chair. They have procedures.

"They have had a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which can be reconstituted immediately after a ceasefire to bring them into communication with the other parties on this island in a constructive way."

Mr Bruton said the IRA also knew that the British prime minister and the Irish Government were committed to bringing Sinn Fein into the talks. "I think they should look at that seriously and take a decision themselves, rather than seek to put the responsibility for that decision elsewhere.

Mr Michael McDowell (PD, Dublin South East) referred to newspaper articles indicating that the IRA was in the business of preparing a campaign of atrocities to take place between now and Christmas.

"Would the Taoiseach agree with me that all of this discussion in this House would be set completely at nought if there is a rash of atrocities committed during that time?"

"Yes," replied Mr Bruton.

Asked by Dr Jim McDaid (FF, Donegal North East) what value the British prime minister placed on the lives of Irish and British citizens, Mr Bruton said it was fair to say that Mr John Major placed a very high value on the lives of people.

It was worth making the point, said Mr Bruton, that the British prime minister continued to work for inclusive all party talks even after the murders in Canary Wharf.

It was time, he added, for the republican movement to put trust in its own political leaders ability to argue its case on the basis of argument and persuasion without any recourse, or need for recourse, or threat of recourse at any time in the future to violence.

Later, the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, replying to opposition questions, said that despite the disappointing pace of developments in the talks, it was important to emphasise that, if operated with goodwill and commitment, they still offered the potential for progress towards the achievement of a lasting and comprehensive negotiated settlement.

While Mr Major had made it clear he was unwilling to commit his government to a specific timetable for entry to the talks, which would have been the Irish Government's preferred approach, he had also made it clear that he did not intend any "undue delay".