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Wednesday, January 21, 1998 Published at 23:00 GMT


Politicians dismayed by IRA's rejection of peace plan
image: [ The funeral took place on Wednesday of Fergal McCusker, a victim of the spiral of violence ]
The funeral took place on Wednesday of Fergal McCusker, a victim of the spiral of violence

Politicians on both sides of the sectarian divide have reacted with dismay to the IRA's rejection of the Anglo-Irish blueprint for a comprehensive peace settlement.

The Provisionals' statement was issued in Belfast as the cycle of violence continued. A Catholic shopkeeper, Ben Hughes, 55, was shot dead in the centre of Belfast.

[ image: The latest victim, Ben Hughes, was shot dead in his car]
The latest victim, Ben Hughes, was shot dead in his car
The IRA statement said: "The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann do not regard the 'propositions on Heads of Agreement' document as a basis for a lasting peace settlement. It is a pro-Unionist document and has created a crisis in the peace crisis.

"We have pointed out repeatedly in the past that meaningful negotiations are crucial to the resolution of the conflict.

The BBC's Denis Murray analyses the significance of the IRA statement
"We have affirmed our willingness to facilitate such negotiations.

"We have matched this commitment with deeds in announcing and maintaining a cessation of military operations since July 20 last year."

Tony Blair 'succumbed to Orange Card'

The IRA statement continued: "The British Government have, as yet, refused to face up to their responsibilities in this regard. They have continued with the remilitarisation policy of their predecessors in government.

"They have stalled on the implementation of any serious or meaningful confidence building measures.

"Most significantly of all, in attempting to impose the `Heads of Agreement' document on the talks process, yet another British Prime Minister has succumbed to the Orange Card.

"This was against a background of the Unionist leadership refusing to meaningfully engage in the talks process and the continuing assassinations by loyalist death squads.

"Instead of facing up to this pressure the British Government has again yielded to it. The responsibility for undoing the damage done to the prospects for a just and lasting peace settlement rests squarely with the British Government."

Second rejection in week

The Anglo-Irish proposal is a complex peace deal which includes a power-sharing assembly for Northern Ireland, cross-border initiatives and a "Council of the British Isles".

The plan was given a guarded welcome by the main unionist and nationalist parties but it was rejected at the weekend by Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator, Martin McGuinness, who pointed out it failed to meet the aim of a united Ireland.

Sinn Fein's leader Gerry Adams has not commented publicly on the plan.

[ image: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness - Sinn Fein rejected the proposals]
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness - Sinn Fein rejected the proposals
Politicians from more than one persuasion criticised the IRA statement.

John Hume, the Leader of the nationalist SDLP, said: "This is not an imposed settlement in any way, shape or form as the IRA statement seems to imply. But it is a document to begin real and serious discussions and it is up to all parties to put forward whatever proposals they wish to put forward."

The Ulster Unionists Party's Security Spokesman, Ken Maginnis, said: "The IRA have shown through this statement that the experiment of bringing them to the table of democracy is not working.

"Their politics is predicated on the threat of violence or the use of violence and they are unable to deal with the political reality that faces them."

[ image: Ken Maginnis:
Ken Maginnis: "Experiment of bringing IRA to the table is not working"
Ominous echoes

Lord Alderdice, Leader of the non-sectarian Alliance Party, said: "It is suggested by this intervention by the IRA that they are not really prepared for a democratic outcome.

"They are only prepared for an outcome which is agreed on their terms and, even if it signed up for by the British and Irish governments, by constitutional nationalists and unionists and those of us in the centre, if its not along their lines they are not going to accept it."

The BBC's Northern Ireland correspondent Denis Murray says the statement suggests that the IRA wants its voice to be heard when the peace talks move from Belfast to London next week.

He says the tone of the document also has ominous echoes of noises made by the IRA shortly before they broke off their first ceasefire by bombing Canary Wharf.


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