February 21, 1998 in Nation/World

Sinn Fein Booted From Peace Talks Suspension For 17 Days Follows Ira Murders, But Action Brings More Division

William D. Montalbano Los Angeles Times

After weeklong deliberations, Britain and Ireland expelled Sinn Fein from Northern Ireland peace talks on Friday as punishment for renewed killings by the outlawed Irish Republican Army.

The 17-day suspension angered both Protestants and Catholics. Sinn Fein, political wing of the IRA, bitterly disputed the legality of the suspension.

Protestant politicians dismissed it scornfully as a slap on the wrist.

Whether Sinn Fein’s protesting departure is remembered as one more moment of drama or the defining event in the eventual collapse of peace hopes, will depend on what happens next on the tense streets of the divided province.

Announcing an expulsion expected since Monday, Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam, said in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that principles of nonviolence governing the talks “have been demonstrably dishonored (by the IRA) and therefore Sinn Fein cannot take part.”

The killings in Belfast last week of a hard-line Protestant and a Catholic drug dealer have been linked to IRA gunmen. Friday’s expulsion order explicitly rejects Sinn Fein’s insistence that it has no links with the IRA.

“Great care has been taken by the governments in arriving at their conclusions,” said Britain and Ireland in a joint statement after Mowlam and Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews met with Sinn Fein leaders.

The governments said Sinn Fein should be able to return to the talks on March 9, “subject crucially to events on the ground and to convincing demonstration in word and deed that a complete, unqualified and unequivocal cease-fire is being fully and continuously observed.”

The expulsion mirrors Anglo-Irish action last month against the Ulster Democratic Party, a small militant Protestant group linked to terrorists who had resumed killing Catholics. The party is to return to the talks Monday.

Three Catholics charged with the murder of Protestant Bobby Dougan are under arrest and being held - at their choice - in the wing of the Maze Prison outside Belfast reserved for IRA prisoners.

Sinn Fein furiously contested impending expulsion in three days of filibuster and unsuccessful court action in Dublin, Ireland, this week.

On Friday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams insisted anew that evidence compiled by mostly Protestant police in Northern Ireland is tainted, that Sinn Fein is not linked to the IRA and that it deserves a place at the peace table on the basis of its electoral mandate as the second largest Catholic party in the Protestant-majority province.

“The decision to expel Sinn Fein by the two governments is disgraceful,” Adams said Friday. “Sinn Fein has no case to answer. There is no just or democratic basis for our exclusion.”

Protestant parties, in favor of continued British rule of the six-country province, believe that the IRA is using the talks for tactical advantage but has no real interest in peace after 30 years and 3,000 deaths. Sinn Fein was admitted to the talks for the first time last fall, six weeks after the announcement on an IRA cease-fire, which technically remains in effect.

David Trimble, leader of the largest Protestant party, was incensed by the brevity of the suspension and called Friday’s decision “a new low in this process. Life is seen to be cheap, very cheap.”

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