Spring calls slow pace of North talks deeply frustrating


THE TANAISTE, Mr Spring, has repeated that Sinn Fein should be allowed into talks after an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire.

He has also described the pace of the multi party talks as "deeply frustrating" and said that not one minute had been devoted to discussions on the substantive political issues.

He was speaking at a conference entitled "Pathways to Settlement: Prospects for Peace" in Dublin last night.

Mr Spring asked if those "positive changes" which have occurred in republican thinking should be encouraged by keeping open the path which leads from the "wilderness of violence to the democratic arena".

"Or should we block off the prospect of constructive engagement by declaring, in effect, that a renewed ceasefire would mean nothing and lead to nothing?"

It was surely "our democratic obligation" to offer a party representing up to one seventh of Northern Ireland's population a way out of its self imposed isolation.

He believed it was time to insist that party met its responsibilities by engaging in dialogue on the same basis as everyone else.

"Participation in negotiation is after all a duty, not a privilege to be bestowed or withheld," he said.

The poison released by the summer's confrontation was still potent. The IRA had continued to ignore the wish of a clear majority of republicans, and an overwhelming majority of the people as a whole, for an immediate restoration of its ceasefire.

"The most telling response we can give to those who seek to subvert the political process through the bomb and the bullet is to redouble our efforts to assert not only the primacy, but the efficacy of politics," he said.

There was a heavy onus on democratic leaders to demonstrate that politics could work and that negotiation could bring honourable and imaginative compromise, without prejudice to fundamental principles.

"It is our duty to prove that the true realism is that of hope, and not that of fear or cynicism.

Describing the pace of progress in the talks process as deeply frustrating, he said it seemed almost surreal that most political energies were being expended on a continuing debate on decommissioning "an issue which nearly all recognise is, for the moment, unfortunately purely hypothetical".