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Peter Hadden

Another roadblock on the path to peace

(2 February 1996)

From Militant [UK], 2 February 1996.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

John Major’s instant response to the Mitchell Commission’s report on paramilitary arms decommissioning – that the only route to talks without decommissioning lies through the Unionist proposal for an elected negotiating body – has placed a fresh roadblock in the way of peace in Northern Ireland.

From Major’s reaction it might seem that Mitchell came down on the Republican side of this whole debate. Far from it. True, the report rejects the British and Unionist demand, now known as Washington Three, for a token amount of weapons to be, handed over before talks. Instead it suggests the “compromise” of some decommissioning during talks.

But it also calls for the complete disarming of all paramilitaries and for a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods. It demands that punishment beatings end. The Republican call for all guns, including those held by the state, to be part of the equation, is explicitly rejected.

By any count its recommendations would prove a bitter pill for the Republicans to swallow. Only weeks before it came out Sinn Fein’s Mitchell McLaughlin dismissed the idea of token decommissioning during talks as “Washington Three by instalments.”

Before Major’s speech there were those within the SDLP and especially Sinn Fein who might have considered the idea of an elected negotiating body as a route to all-party talks. But his intervention has been seen as a capitulation to the Unionists and yet another British exercise in moving the goalposts, Nationalist opposition has hardened to the extent that the SDLP and Sinn Fein would probably not take part in any such elections, so killing of this proposal. Sinn Fein are in effect demanding the implementation of the Mitchell Report.

In order to keep Bill Clinton, the Dublin government and the SDLP onside they are pressing the British to agree terms which would amount to the complete decommissioning not only of the arms but of the historic ethos of Republicanism.

So if Major does change his tune and seek some other route to talks and if in turn the IRA accept the Mitchell Report, there will be no disguising who has made the real climb down.

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