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'More pragmatic' DUP approach to Sinn Féin

(Simon Doyle, Irish News)

A senior DUP member's claim that the party cannot accept people linked to "active terrorism" represents a more pragmatic approach towards Sinn Féin, it was claimed last night.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said comments made by DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson in a speech in London reflected a change in the mood within unionism.

The East Belfast MP told the Conservative Monday Club that his party would force a renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement after the next assembly elections. He also insisted that the DUP could not accept those linked to "active terrorism".

"We do not wish to exclude nationalists from having a role in govern-ing Northern Ireland but we cannot accept those who are linked to active terrorism ruling over those they continue to terrorise," Mr Robinson said.

"Those who support or engage in such activity exclude themselves from the democratic process."

Mr Robinson's language appears to signify a softening of the DUP's stance on sitting down with Sinn Féin.

At the party conference in Nov-ember, DUP leader Ian Paisley warned that any member who made contact with Sinn Féin would be expelled.

"We will not sit down and negot-iate with the representatives of terrorism," he said. But statements by senior DUP members in recent days and the appearance of MP Nigel Dodds alongside Sinn Féin's Mitchell McLaughlin on the BBC's Question Time indicate that the party's position may have changed.

Days before Mr Robinson's comments, in a speech to the Windsor Branch of the Ulster Unionist Party, East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell spoke of his party's reluctance to accept Sinn Féin linked to an "active" IRA.

"We cannot accept a situation where unaccountable Sinn Féin ministers, with an active IRA, sit in government, taking decisions which favour their community and disadvantage ours," he said.

Earlier this month a senior member of the DUP said that his party could "do business" with Sinn Féin but only if it became a normal constitutional party.

Assembly member Willie Hay said republicans would have to make clear that their war was over and provide a timetable for IRA disbandment.

Mr Adams said there did not seem to be anything significantly new in Mr Robinson's speech. However, he said there appeared to be a recognition from the DUP that a considerable section of unionism knew that the "old DUP tactics" could not deliver a stable and effective institution.

"Ian Paisley is probably too long in the tooth to change his approach to all of this," Mr Adams said.

"But I think that Mr Robinson's (speech) represents to some degree a more pragmatic approach because of the mood within unionists – but not because of any 'road to Damascus' conversion by the DUP."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said he believed that there had been no shift from the DUP's core position with regard to the agreement.

"People will read various things into Peter Robinson's speech – the fact that he now takes certain things as givens that the DUP had previously opposed," he said.

"But let's be careful here. The DUP has at best moved from a position of huff and puff to fluff and bluff. We don't know what it is they are going to do."

DUP assembly member Ian Paisley jnr said his party's attitude to Sinn Féin remained the same.

"Sometimes people try to anal- yse comments with the binoculars turned the wrong way round," Mr Paisley said. "The political anoraks have got it wrong."

Januay 18, 2003

This article appeared first in the January 17, 2003 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News