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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 10:06 GMT
War over but old battles continue
Martina Purdy
By Martina Purdy
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

"The war is obviously over," - so says Gerry Adams. The words - which might have transformed politics here years ago - came too late for many unionists.

Sir Reg says UVF will not care about ceasefire judgement
Sir Reg said the relaxed atmosphere was due to UUP influence

The words were, however, no sooner uttered than the LVF announced it was standing down.

While the LVF claimed this was a direct response to recent IRA initiatives, the cynics suggest it had more to do with the threat from the UVF.

Whatever the motivation, there were signs this week of peace taking root, the most potent being the taoiseach's visit to Belfast and his address to the Institute of Directors.

Fifteen years ago, another taoiseach, Charles Haughey, came to the Europa Hotel to address an IoD conference.

Mr Haughey's visit was marked by massive security and an angry loyalist protest.

Anger over the Anglo-Irish Agreement was still raw in those days and the Irish Republic, through articles two and three of the Irish Constitution, still laid claim to the territory of Northern Ireland.

What a contrast this week when Bertie Ahern stepped out of his ministerial car with a discreet security presence to address the IoD.

There was merely a low-key protest involving disgruntled workers demanding pension rights from Richardson's Fertilisers.

Atmosphere

Sir Reg Empey, who was attacked by his own party for opening the 1990 IoD conference, noted the relaxed atmosphere which, he said, was due to the changes his party won through the Good Friday Agreement.

Despite claims that the Agreement is dead, its legacy lives on.

The taoiseach cited the Agreement as his government's only agenda in a bid to calm unionist fears about the future.

He stated that the constitutional question was settled, in the sense that Irish unity requires consent.

This was not contradicted by Martin McGuinness who agreed with the remarks in this week's Inside Politics interview.

While the war may be over, old battles continue.

Sinn Fein has been rowing with the Bush administration over the visa conditions for Gerry Adams' visit to the United States next week.

Policing

Sinn Fein wants Mr Adams to be allowed to address a Sinn Fein fund-raiser.

The problem may be that some in the administration want to adopt a stick, rather than a carrot, approach to entice Sinn Fein towards policing.

Mr McGuinness insisted Sinn Fein's position on policing was dependent on moves from the government - effectively legislation on the devolution of policing and justice.

While critical of the police following arrests linked to the Northern Bank robbery investigation, the Sinn Fein MP, when interviewed, did not attempt to say this had delayed the day when his party would sign up to the new service.

Mr McGuinness instead focused on the situation within loyalism and attempts by some in its ranks to deliver the UVF and UDA on a peaceful path following the IRA's July 28 statement ordering an end to its campaign.

The Mid-UlsterMP said the government must do more to encourage this.
Bertie Ahern said the Agreement was his government's only agenda

While Mr McGuinness might have been trying to deflect attention from the Northern Bank robbery, it is more likely that he is aware of the significant developments that may be about to take place within loyalism.

There are whispers of significant talks not just within the UVF and within the UDA - but also between the two paramilitary groups.

It is another measure of changed times when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is seen as more supportive of loyalist paramilitaries and their efforts towards peace than Tony Blair.

While loyalist moves towards peace will be welcome, it is republican intentions which preoccupy London, Dublin and Washington.

All await the January report from the Independent Monitoring Commisssion as the next crucial staging post in the peace process.

Mr McGuinness was critical of last month's IMC report, claiming it was incorrect when it alleged Provisional IRA involvement in an assault days after the 28 July statement by the IRA.

He has put a series of questions to the secretary of state on the issue.

Mr McGuinness, like the taoiseach, was optimistic about the future.

He claimed his party will be in talks next year with the DUP.

Such progress is not impossible - but the taoiseach's suggestion that an end to IRA paramilitary and criminal activity could unlock devolution in 2006 appears rather optimistic to those who have watched this process falter so often.


SEE ALSO
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12 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
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