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Thursday, January 22, 1998 Published at 23:59 GMT


Peace process 'on borrowed time'
image: [ The Sinn Fein leadership is under increasing pressure to quit the talks ]
The Sinn Fein leadership is under increasing pressure to quit the talks

George Eykyn reports: RealVideo
Some members of Sinn Fein are calling for the party to withdraw from the Northern Ireland peace talks.

Sinn Fein and the IRA have already formally rejected the Anglo-Irish proposals for a political settlement, describing them as a "unionist" blueprint.

The key issue is the relationship between a Northern Ireland Assembly, which the unionists want, and a proposed north-south body, bringing together politicians from both sides of the border, which the republicans want.

[ image: Francie MacKey:
Francie MacKey: "Present proposals will strengthen divide"
Republicans say that if the north-south body is subservient to the assembly, it will cement the partition of Ireland.

A Sinn Fein councillor in Northern Ireland, Francie Mackey, said that he felt let down by his party's leaders whose position was "dishonest" as long as they remained in the talks.

Sinn Fein, he said, had signed up to the Mitchell Principles of non-violence and was now trapped.

"The Heads of Agreement propositions confirm that the partition will only be strengthened if the present proposals go ahead and I think [Sinn Fein] cannot now pull out," he said.

The sister of Bobby Sands, who was the first to die in the IRA's 1981 hunger strike, said the talks would not deliver peace and that by staying in them, republicans were just giving them legitimacy.

"It's decision time," Bernadette Sands said. "It's time to sit back and reflect and if mistakes have been made ... then [we must] have the courage, have the nerve to pull out if necessary."

[ image: Alex Maskey has rejected the idea that the party is angry with its leaders]
Alex Maskey has rejected the idea that the party is angry with its leaders
Sinn Fein admits that there is enormous anger in the movement, but only at the talks' document and not the republican leadership.

The Sinn Fein negotiator, Councillor Alex Maskey, has rejected the idea that Sinn Fein would ever become involved in a partitionist settlement.

"We have said from the outset that there will be very difficult decisions which will have to be taken by republicans," he said.

"After all, republicans have paid a very heavy price for our involvement in this struggle and we have no intention of going back on that."

The IRA will review its ceasefire in March, but it is already talking of a crisis.

The security forces say they do not think the truce is about to collapse, but the pressure is certainly building.

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