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Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Adams move 'muddies the waters'
Martina Purdy
By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent

Every time the peace process takes another twist, there's invariably a little irony to be found. This time it's in Gerry Adams's latest statement - and the unionist reaction to it.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein President whose hackles are nearly always raised at the mere mention of the IRA, was happy to interpret the organisation's statement and deliver information on its behalf.

He declared: "The IRA statement is a statement of completely peaceful intent. Its logic is that there should be no activities inconsistent with this.

"Secondly, the IRA has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity. Obviously this is not about putting some arms beyond use. It is about all arms.

"And thirdly, if the two governments and all the parties fulfil their commitments this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
The IRA statement is a statement of completely peaceful intent
Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein leader

Just for good measure, should there be any doubt he wasn't speaking with the IRA's approval, there, just a few feet from Mr Adams was the former IRA chief of staff, Joe Cahill. He is often wheeled out at critical times to reassure "the base".

Of course, the other irony is that the Ulster Unionists in condemning the statement as falling short, pointed out that that this was a statement from Mr Adams and not the IRA.

Yet the Ulster Unionists will not share power because they believe Mr Adams is the IRA.

The peace process is a funny old world but then the party would insist Mr Adams always has deniability and that's why the IRA has to say it.

'Bad boys'

Confused? That's perfectly understandable because in a process where clarity is king, the Sinn Fein statement has muddied the waters.

Last week, it was clear to all the republicans were the bad boys, refusing to budge.

Now republicans have received a pat on the head from the two governments and a gentle reminder that there's just a little bit more required.

That is bound to irritate the unionist sibling who is nervously trying to avoid being pressed into an election.

There now seems to be just one word standing between republicans and the British - the word "should" must become "will".

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair must now decide on an election.

In others words, the statement that IRA activity should not happen needs to be "will not" happen.

Mr Adams has made it harder for the governments to call the election off. As one pro-Agreement politician put it after the Adams speech: "There'll be a few people sweating in Downing Street."

He has encouraged London to give the process a bit more time. The prize, which Mr Blair said was frustratingly close last week, is dangling even closer.

Will the prime minister take the bait and try and tease out a bit more - however vain that might be?

Of course, Sinn Fein knows that the longer that process takes, the deeper the parties sink into the election.

After all, the assembly was dissolved at midnight on Sunday and the elections are under way.

'Confidence trick'

The DUP wants the election to go ahead, but has reacted angrily to the republican statement, claiming it is little more than a confidence trick.

That message is expected to get louder as the 29 May poll approaches.

The SDLP response to the republican position is tricky. The party will not want to be praising Sinn Fein right before an election, but will be loathe to be over-critical.

The party played it safe, like a sensible older sibling, mildly chastising republicans for taking so long, and like "the parents" Dublin and London, encouraging republicans to clear up the remaining matters.

London is now caught in a tug-of-war over the election.

There's another irony - the DUP is lined up on the same side of the rope as Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Dublin demanding a poll, while the Ulster Unionists question the wisdom of trying to elect an assembly without agreement on an executive.

All this in a week when the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament are going to the polls.

Who would be prime minister?

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