BY PETE CLIFFORD
LONDON - The setting of June 10 for the beginning of all- party talks on the future of Northern Ireland by the London and Dublin governments has been given a "cautious welcome" by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. The demand for such talks has been the central campaigning focus of fighters for Irish national self-determination over the last 18 months. While London has abandoned its precondition that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) totally decommission its arms prior to Sinn Fein being admitted to talks, Adams warned that many will remain "sceptical about this commitment in the context of consistent British bad faith and stalling."
London now says the condition for Sinn Fein's participation is that the IRA renew its cease-fire prior to the talks. Since ending its cease-fire on February 9, the IRA has claimed responsibility for three bomb explosions in London. The London- Dublin communiqué stated, however, that only after talks began would Sinn Fein be required to make a "total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence" laid down in a report issued by former U.S. senator George Mitchell in January. An editorial in the Sinn Fein paper An Phoblacht warned, "Clearly we are not out of the woods yet."
In announcing the date for talks, British prime minister John Major said they would be preceded by special Northern Ireland elections to determine the negotiating group for the talks. Sinn Fein, the leading party in the fight for Irish self- determination, has opposed such elections but says it will consider taking part.
Multilateral negotiations were held March 4-13 to determine the electoral method. This consultative process was described by Sinn Fein as a farce when its delegation was refused entry because of the continuation of the IRA campaign. An Phoblacht reported, "While Sinn Fein was not invited and then locked out of talks, the two main unionist parties who were invited boycotted the venue, because of the presence of Dublin government representatives."
In addition to the unionist parties boycotting the talks, the pro-British loyalist paramilitaries issued a threat March 12 to match the IRA "blow by blow."
Despite this filibustering and bombast, the naming of a date for talks is widely seen as a concession to fighters for self- determination. The Daily Telegraph, for example, ran an editorial headlined "The bombing has worked." The Guardian commented, "In truth there is no disguising the fact that the Government has given ground by agreeing a fixed date for all- party talks."
Many working people, both in Ireland and in the United Kingdom, place the responsibility for the IRA's bombing campaign with the Major government's stalling on all-party talks. An opinion poll for the London Sunday Times said two out of three voters favor talks with Sinn Fein. In Ireland, opinion polls showed 70 percent of people held the British government responsible for the break in the cease-fire, while 85 percent were in favor of talks without preconditions.
London and Dublin are responding to this by seeking to isolate nationalist fighters. In Dublin, Irish prime minister John Bruton made an attack on the IRA the centerpiece of his address to the annual conference of his Fine Gael party.
In London, Labour Party spokesperson Jack Straw announced Labour intends to drop its 13-year formal opposition to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Originally introduced by a Labour government, the law provides for seven-day detention without charge. Numerous people have been framed up through it, including the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. The Irish Post reported that a survey it conducted "suggested that by 1993, one Irish person in every ten had experienced the effects or been touched by the PTA in some way." The Post added, "In police eyes the Irish became a `suspect community' " under the PTA. The London government was scheduled to renew the law March 14.
Speaking in London, Sinn Fein leader Francie Molloy responded to those who blamed the IRA for the ending of the cease-fire. "The failure we've seen is of constitutional nationalism," he said. "They failed to provide an alternative to armed struggle." Before a crowd of 300 in the Camden Irish center he emphasized, "No one thought or believes they will hand us freedom on a plate." He called on the audience to redouble their efforts to "end the exclusion of Sinn Fein and force Britain to sit down."
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