by Steve Lawton
AS multi-party talks at Stormont Castle considered the contentious issue of the British-Irish government proposal for a northern Ireland assembly last week, loyalists stepped up their campaign of intimidation and death-threats against the nationalist community.
Strand One of talks on the northern Ireland assembly ended as we went to press on Wednesday, and it was clear that Sinn Fein remains at loggerheads with the pro-unionist and partitionist framework in the assembly details.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams MP, responding to claims by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) that his team were failing to engage in talks, countered. "We are opposed to an assembly. But we've been quite open about discussing these issues because the unionists want to. We have engaged in all the strands of the talks."
He continued: "We have a view that an assembly would institutionalise the unionist veto. We are quite concerned," he pointed out, "even in the context of cross border bodies. Are these bodies to be subordinate to a unionist dominated assembly in which there is an institutionalised unionist veto!"
One of Sinn Fein's negotiators, Bairbre de Brun, said last Tuesday evening that there was still no "real engagement". She said: "Our opposition to an assembly has been cynically represented as non-engagement."
She explained that Sinn Fein had sought all the parties standpoints and there was "a useful exchange of views " with the Unionists, but their responses did not address "fears that we have that any new assembly would be a return to unionist domination and discrimination."
Gerry Adams also believed there had been hardly any movement on "the equality agenda, sovereignty, demilitarisation, and the release of all political prisoners"
And in an atmosphere of growing intimitiation from loyalists, primarily directed at republicans and the Catholic community, but who are now even "warning " the British northern Ireland minister Dr Mo Mowlem, the signs look increasingly dicey.
Last Monday the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) issued "wanted posters" for Mo Mowlem and said in a statement that they would unleash an "unholy war" against the nationalist community unless an alleged republican death threat against the family of LVF leader Billy Wright, killed by the Irish National Liberation Anny (INLA) in the Maze, is withdrawn.
But Sinn Fein's chief talks negotiator, Martin McGuinness MP, said the "phantom" threats referred to by LVF came from Ulster Freedom Fighter (UFF)LVF sources in fact.
He said it was another attempt to raise tensions just as, in the previous week, the LVF announced that they would not target "ordinary" Catholics but focus on republicans in the community. The Sinn Fein leader said this was "designed to give a false sense of relief to those who felt vunerable."
As the talks deadline of 1 May looms, he said "we call expect to see these organisations increase their terror campaign to prevent movement on constitutional issues and intimidate nationalists into accepting less than we are entitled to."
According to posters signed by the LVF army council and plastered over an estate in Antrim, Mo Mowlem is held responsible for "the foul murder of leading loyalist Billy Wright and is "also responsible for all other murders and military action taken hy the LVF in direct retaliation for the state-sponsored assassination of our comrade whilst a PoW in HMP Maze."
Even so, as the Catholic community and Sinn Fein acknowledge, the decision to appoint Lord Saville, a Law Lord, to chair a tribunal of three with an open remit to investigate the Bloody Sunday events in January 1972, may yet prove to he a significant step is resolving one episode in the infamous history of British military occupation of northern Ireland.
It remains to he seen who is targeted, how high up that goes, in what way immunities are applied and how open the process will be in what could turn out to he long drawn out proceedings. Getting to the bottom of this will obviously meet all manner of resistance, avoidance and scapegoating.
When Channel Four News drew attention to new evidence two weeks ago revealing that another regiment present at the peaceful civil rights demonstralion was collectively on a "turkey shoot", former Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath palmed the responsibility for decision-making off onto the Army.
Gerry Adams spoke of the "courage, determination and resilience of the families" of the Bloody Sunday murder victims. This was expressed in a 20,000 strong march last Sunday, led by the relatives through Derry to mark the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Their answer to UUP comments that the inquiry is about "revenge" and seeking "a pound of flesh".
The Sinn Fein leader continued: "Their 26-year struggle is testimony to their inner strength and courage, and to their absolute commitment to get to the truth. It is now our collective task to ensure that this inquiry leaves no stone unturned and no question unanswered in pursuit of the truth."
Sinn Fein, which holds a joint lead of 13 seats on Belfast city council, has been granted a judicial review in the high court in its legal battle to establish that its exclusion from the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of 16 committees and 42 other bodies is unlawful.
* Gerry Adams is expected to go on a fundraising trip to the United States later this month, visiting Washington and New York.
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