Unionists sceptical as SDLP, governments greet statement

 

Reaction last night to Mr Gerry Adams's statement was mixed. The two governments and mainstream nationalists have warmly welcomed it but unionists insist it does not go far enough.

The North's First Minister, Mr David Trimble, said the Provisional IRA must hand over arms. "Carefully-crafted words alone are not enough. The people of Northern Ireland will now judge Sinn Fein on their actions over coming days," he said last night.

The anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist MP, the Rev Martin Smyth, said the statement was inadequate and Sinn Fein had always insisted it did not speak for the IRA. He demanded decommissioning.

The Democratic Unionist Party secretary, Mr Nigel Dodds, dismissed the statement as meaningless and accused Sinn Fein of previous lies. Mr Martin McGuinness's statement that the 1994 IRA ceasefire would hold in "all circumstances" had been false, he added. Sinn Fein was simply aiming to avoid bad publicity coinciding with the arrival of President Clinton.

However, the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, said the statement confirmed his view that Sinn Fein deserved to be taken seriously in its commitment to exclusively peaceful means.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said it was a positive contribution by Sinn Fein to confidence-building and marked "an important advance" in consolidating the Belfast Agreement. The Tanaiste, Ms Harney, said the statement was "a significant contribution" and would help move the peace process on. The Fine Gael leader, Mr John Bruton, said Mr Adams's statement was clearly designed to facilitate a meeting between himself and Mr Trimble, and for that should be welcomed. However, he said that when Mr Adams said that the violence "must for all of us be a thing of the past" it was a statement of a wish and "not a statement of what the IRA will actually do". The Labour Party leader, Mr Ruairi Quinn, said Mr Adams's statement was a positive development at a critical stage of the peace process. "If this statement means that the whole republican movement, including the IRA, believe that violence has no place in the politics of this island, then it is a highly significant step forward." Mr Proinsias De Rossa, the Democratic Left leader, said while the statement fell short, it represented "the most significant rejection of violence yet expressed by any leader of the republican movement".

However, the SDLP leader, Mr John Hume, welcomed "the fact Sinn Fein have underlined their total commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods, stating in other words that, as far as the republican movement is concerned, the so-called war is over".

Mr Sean Neeson, the Alliance assembly leader, welcomed the Sinn Fein statement and said Mr Adams was effectively saying the war was over.

Families Against Intimidation and Terror said there must be no more IRA so-called punishment attacks.

The Republican Sinn Fein president, Mr Ruairi O Bradaigh, accused Mr Adams of ignoring the basic cause of the conflict - "the unjust and undemocratic British government presence here".

The 32-County Sovereignty Movement said the statement failed to challenge British rule. The Sovereignty Movement also said it was "sad" to see the Provisional IRA being praised by the Northern Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, for urging the `Real IRA' to disband. "The British have always praised and encouraged those they felt had acceded or been co-opted into their administration," a spokesman said.