07 April 2005

Guardian

IRA responds to Adams appeal

Mark Oliver and agencies
Thursday April 7, 2005

The IRA said today it was giving "due consideration" to the appeal by the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, for it to fully embrace politics and abandon the armed struggle.

In a brief statement released to the Press Association news agency under the IRA's pen name of P O'Neill, the Republican group said: "The leadership of the IRA was given notice of the appeal by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. We have noted his comments. The IRA will give his appeal due consideration and will respond in due course."

In a speech yesterday in west Belfast that was described as extraordinary by analysts, Mr Adams said that, while in the past he had defended the IRA's right to engage in armed struggle, there was now an alternative in "building political support for republican and democratic objectives".

He appealed to the IRA "to fully embrace and accept this alternative", but did not go as far as calling for the IRA to disband.

Republican sources said last night the Sinn Féin leader was attempting to urge the IRA to consider its own future ahead of any negotiations which could start up after the general election, possibly in the autumn.

However, unionists have responded sceptically, noting the statement was delivered on the second day of a general election campaign in which Sinn Féin hopes to assert its dominance over the rival nationalist party, the SDLP, which it has eclipsed in recent elections.

The SDLP's leader, Mark Durkan, questioned whether Mr Adams's statement was sincere and today said his was the only party in the province with proposals that would bring a quick end to direct rule in the province.

The Stormont power-sharing assembly, which was created after the 1998 Good Friday agreement, was suspended in October 2002 after claims about a republican spying ring at the Northern Ireland Office.

Today Mr Durkan told the ePolitix website: "If people want to return to the agreement then they should return the SDLP in greater strength. History shows that when the SDLP vote goes up then we all make progress and that when the more extreme problem parties make gains we all stay stuck."

The Democratic Unionist party leader, Ian Paisley, yesterday dismissed Mr Adams's speech as a "political stunt". He said: "There must be a complete and total abandonment of IRA/Sinn Féin and that's not going to happen. The DUP won't be back in any negotiating table. "

Northern Ireland's peace process stalled at the end of last year over whether the IRA would allow weapons decommissioning to be photographed. The republican movement was then thrown into crisis by allegations the IRA carried out December's £26.5m Northern Bank raid in Belfast and was involved in the murder of Catholic man Robert McCartney in January.

Pressure has been mounting on the IRA to abandon violence and crime and disband. Last month Mr Adams had a cool reception during his annual St Patrick's Day trip to boost support in the US, where Mr McCartney's sisters were, in contrast, welcomed by the US president, George Bush, and other leaders.

Earlier today, Sinn Féin's vice-president, Pat Doherty, said Mr Adams's speech had prompted debate within the movement. Speaking in London, Mr Doherty said: "This is a huge issue ... everybody who has lived through the conflict in the north knows the reality of violence [from] the British army and the unionist death squads. Many republicans and nationalists see the IRA as their defenders.

"There will be a rational intellectual debate but there will be an element of emotion in all of this and it will take time for all of that to work its way through."

He denied that Mr Adams had made his statement in an attempt to shore up support for Sinn Féin among nationalists following the murder of Mr McCartney and ahead of the general election on May 5.

Yesterday, Mr Adams said he had defended the armed struggle in the past because, at the time, "there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee, or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic ... [but now] the way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally."

Downing Street said the statement was "significant" and hoped it was the way forward "to peaceful and democratic means".

However, the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, said: "Nothing less than a complete and decisive end to all IRA activity and capability will be acceptable if there is to be any prospect of achieving inclusive politics in Northern Ireland."


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