Northern Ireland elections: Sinn Féin

A victorious Gerry Adams yesterday gathered Sinn Féin's 24 new assembly members at Stormont to deliver a blunt message to Ian Paisley.

A victorious Gerry Adams yesterday gathered Sinn Féin's 24 new assembly members at Stormont, the former bastion of Unionist rule, to deliver a blunt message to Ian Paisley.

As Northern Ireland's largest nationalist party, Sinn Féin will not countenance any renegotiation of the Good Friday agreement and says the "unfinished business" of the peace process must be implemented in full.

Sinn Féin, in common with the Irish government, believes the Good Friday agreement cannot be rewritten because it was endorsed by the Irish people as a whole in 1998. "The principles, structures and obligations of the agreement cannot and will not be subverted," Mr Adams declared.

Republicans also believe that Tony Blair must live up to his commitment to deal with the "unfinished business" of the peace process by stepping up the process of "demilitarisation" - removing army watchtowers and reducing troop numbers - and by reforming policing arrangements.

Mr Adams holds out no prospect of reaching an agreement with Mr Paisley, who holds a veto over Northern Ireland's future as leader of the largest unionist party. But Mr Adams yesterday took the unprecedented step of writing to the DUP leader to ask him for talks. "Either the letter will go in the bin or they will reply," one Sinn Féin source said. "Let's hope they reply."

Mr Adams accepts that the man who has built a career out of saying no in various forms over five decades will refuse to have anything to do with Sinn Féin. This means it will concentrate, for the moment, on the "unfinished business".

Winning concessions from Mr Blair would help Sinn Féin in two ways. First, it would demonstrate to hardline republicans that "politics can work" even if the DUP is the largest party. Second, it would undermine the DUP's position within the unionist community by showing that Mr Paisley's electoral pledge to block concessions to nationalists was an empty promise.

Sinn Féin also wants to resume its talks with the Ulster Unionist Party even though it has lost its position as the largest unionist party. "The discussions with the UUP over the summer were one of the most important developments in the peace process in recent years," one Sinn Féin source said. "There was an agreement - it was just that when it started to become public David Trimble put it on hold."

Sinn Féin hopes that a new agreement with the UUP, which would involve the IRA offering significant concessions to show that it has abandoned violence for good, would achieve two goals.

First, the talks would undermine the DUP by showing that the moderate David Trimble can win concessions from republicans. Second, Sinn Féin would like the talks to mark the beginning of a "pro-agreement axis" which could eventually revive the assembly and the power-sharing executive.


Nicholas Watt

The GuardianTramp

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