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Sinn Fein Expelled From Talks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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

Whether Sinn Fein’s departure under protest 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 that principles of nonviolence governing the talks “have been demonstrably dishonored [by the IRA] and therefore Sinn Fein cannot take part.”

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.

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“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 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.”

Later Friday, a powerful car bomb exploded next to a village police station 20 miles southwest of Belfast, injuring 11 officers and civilians but none seriously, authorities said.

Police said it was the work of a militant anti-British group such as the IRA or a splinter faction.

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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.

Speaking with reporters in Belfast on Friday, Mowlam warned that hopes for an early return by Sinn Fein “could not be maintained in the event of further violence.”

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

Hoping to keep Sinn Fein actively engaged in the process, Britain and Ireland said they will maintain high-level contacts with the party during its suspension.

The two countries are co-sponsoring talks chaired by American statesman George J. Mitchell to broker constitutional change in the British-ruled province after three decades of sectarian violence.

Sinn Fein furiously contested impending expulsion in three days of filibuster and unsuccessful court action in Dublin 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-county 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 of 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.”

Under Mitchell, eight political parties have met loudly and weekly, but also weakly, since last autumn, with no real negotiations ever taking place.

Britain and Ireland call for a political settlement by May 1, which they want ratified in a referendum among the 1.5 million residents of Northern Ireland, who are about 60% Protestant, 40% Catholic.

Because no new ideas have been generated by the political parties, British and Irish sources say the two governments intend to produce a draft final settlement, perhaps in late March or early April.

Under current plans, the parties would then gather for intensive talks at a meeting outside Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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The general terms of an eventual accord are already well-known. Northern Ireland, now governed directly from London, would get home rule through a provincial assembly elected by proportional representation. That would please the Protestant majority but would alarm the Catholic minority.

At the same time, executive north-south bodies would be created to administer areas of common concern like agriculture, transport, health and tourism on the island of Ireland. That is strongly supported by Sinn Fein, the larger Social Democratic and Labor Party and the Catholic community that supports the goal of a united Ireland. It is anathema to Protestants.


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