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Sinn Fein Calls for All-Party Talks - 2002-10-24

Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein party, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, is calling for all-party talks to save the province's peace process. The call follows Britain's decision last week to suspend self-rule in Northern Ireland after allegations of a Sinn Fein-IRA spy operation.

Sinn Fein's chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, told reporters in London his party wants Britain and Ireland to immediately convene talks between all parties in Northern Ireland to revive the province's political institutions.

Mr. McLaughlin said if Britain wants paramilitary groups such as the IRA to disband, it is counter-productive to suspend Northern Ireland's local government.

"For the first time in many generations, in the north of Ireland, politics is working," he said. "We believe the British government is making a fundamental tactical blunder in willy-nilly suspending the institutions, which are in fact the alternative for many to the existence and the activities of paramilitary organizations."

Mr. McLaughlin also played down British allegations that Sinn Fein had spied on the British government for the IRA. He said that in Northern Ireland, all sides are always collecting intelligence on each other.

"We all live in a militarized, securitized society. We have lived with many, many years, three decades of conflict," he said. "Spying is, and surveillance is, the reality of our life."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week suspended the government in Northern Ireland, in which Catholic and Protestant political leaders shared power under terms of a 1998 peace agreement.

Mr. Blair acted after Protestant political leaders threatened to resign in protest over the spy scandal.

In a speech last Thursday, Mr. Blair called for the IRA to disband, saying it could no longer remain "half in and half out" of the peace process. The IRA has rejected the Blair appeal.

In another development, Mr. Blair has removed John Reid as his Northern Ireland secretary in a cabinet reshuffle. The new secretary for Northern Ireland is Paul Murphy, a Catholic who was deeply involved in the 1998 peace negotiations.