28/04/2003

Blair calls for ‘straight answer’ over IRA's position

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that a “straight answer” is needed from the IRA in order to break the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process.

At a press conference held in London on this morning, Mr Blair said that while progress had been achieved there was some way to go.

Mr Blair said: "We don't yet have the basis that we need. Is there going to be an end to all paramilitary activity of the sort that gave rise to the sort of problems that we have?"

"That is what we need to know on behalf of the IRA, because if they are going to carry on with that activity there is no basis for progress. I can't believe that we can't get a straight answer to that question."

On Sunday night the Northern Ireland Assembly, suspended in October last year following IRA intelligence gathering allegations, was dissolved as the initial step towards election on May 29. But this date looks increasingly uncertain as the province's political parties are preparing to move onto an election footing.

Earlier on Sunday Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams addressing senior party activists in Belfast said that important aspects of the Good Friday Agreement had yet to be delivered.

Commenting on the British and Irish governments’ postponed joint declaration, Mr Adams said that the possible introduction of sanctions against Sinn Féin were “unacceptable” to his party.

However, he indicated that the joint declaration presented an “important opportunity to move the process forward” and that this was a “defining moment” in the peace process.

However, while the two governments guardedly welcomed Mr Adams comments, the largely pro-Agreement Ulster Unionist Party immediately rejected them.

In a statement issued on Sunday a spokesperson said: “Republicans billed up this statement into something that had the capacity to unlock the deadlock. In the end it failed to live up to its billing. Having seen the details it falls short of what is required.

“It must be borne in mind that this was a statement by Mr Adams and not the IRA. In response to the three questions posed by the Prime Minister we are no further forward. This statement does not provide any basis on which suspension can be lifted.”

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said that the statement should not be discounted. Although some ambiguity remained about IRA activity he called for the elections to proceed on schedule.

The British and Irish government finally postponed the publication of their joint declaration ‘blueprint’ on Thursday April 10. A spokesperson for Mr Blair said that there was a “lack of clarity” in the responses made to the blueprint.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy is to meet Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowan today to discuss the deadlocked peace process.

(SP)

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