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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK

UK Politics

Sinn Fein rejects declaration

Weapons: Still the biggest problem for the peace process

The Sinn Fein leadership has described the Hillsborough Declaration as unacceptable.

[ image: Adams: 'No obligation on IRA to disarm']
Adams: 'No obligation on IRA to disarm'
The document was put forward last week by the British and Irish governments as a way of breaking the deadlock over paramilitary weapons.

Senior members of the party met on Thursday afternoon to discuss the Declaration.

Afterwards, Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said the document proposed a 'massive change' to the Good Friday Agreement - particularly on decommissioning.

He called on the British and Irish governments to defend the Agreement, not attempt to re-write it.

Sinn Fein's statement will be seen as a blow to efforts to revive the peace process.

But the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, had already said at the weekend that the IRA was under "no obligation" to hand over its weapons before the setting up of an executive for the Northern Ireland assembly.

And yesterday, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said no prospect existed of the IRA agreeing to decommission any of its weapons or explosives as a precondition to entering an executive.

The Search for Peace
The deadline for setting up an executive for the assembly passed on Good Friday, 2 April, without an agreement on the stumbling block issue of paramilitary weapons.

The "declaration", intended as a basis for a solution to the impasse over decommissioning, was issued by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern.

When marathontalks at Hillsborough were adjourned last week, Mr Blair set out the way the declaration could help resolve the row over weapons.

Less than a month after Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam triggered the formation of the ruling executive, there would be a "collective act of reconciliation."

Some arms would then be put beyond use in a mannner verified by the independent commission for decommissioning, Mr Blair said.

At the time, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said they were comfortable the last hurdles had been overcome.

But Sinn Fein's statement is a clear indication that the governments face formidable problems if the weapons deadlock is to be overcome.

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