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Unionist Noycott of Irish Talks Stalls Peace Process Indefinitely

By William D. Montalbano
Los Angeles Times

Anglo-Irish hopes for Dayton-style political talks opening the way toward peace in Northern Ireland ran aground at their debut Monday when key Protestant politicians did not show up and a gate-crashing Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's political wing, had to be turned away.

Another 10 days of meetings are planned. But unless the Irish Republican Army declares a new cease-fire, Adams and the Sinn Fein party will be denied full participation. In that case, British and Irish analysts see dim prospects for a negotiated end to 25 years of sectarian violence.

The two largest Unionist parties representing majority Protestants in Northern Ireland boycotted Monday's meeting in Belfast. They were miffed at the presence of Dick Spring, Ireland's foreign minister, alongside a British minister. The officials preside over what are billed as "intensive consultations" for provincial elections designed as an overture to peace talks set to begin June 10.

"Elections are not relevant to the southern Irish government. It is an internal matter," said right-wing Unionist leader Ian Paisley, a conspicuous no-show.

Adams, the head of a 10-member Sinn Fein delegation, made a token, for-the-cameras attempt to enter the building where the ministers conferred but was turned away, as he knew he would be.

"We are being denied the right to talk about peace," protested Adams, whose role as political spokesman for his group has been gravely undermined by renewed violence and the IRA's refusal to announce a new cease-fire.

Britain and Ireland say they will not meet Sinn Fein on a ministerial level until the IRA restores a cease-fire broken after 17 months by bombings in London in February. Neither will Sinn Fein, which gets around 10 percent of the vote in Northern Ireland, get a seat at the negotiating table without a new cease-fire.

Britain and Ireland set dates for the election and the opening of peace talks at a prime ministers' summit here last week. John Bruton of Ireland had hoped that meetings this week and next about elections could become a local version of the "proximity talks" in Dayton, Ohio, that helped break the deadlock in the Balkans.

Clandestine leaders of the IRA, which seeks union of Northern Ireland with the Irish republic, have refused a new cease-fire.