Adams appeals todoubtful IRA supporters to see victory in compromise

CARRICKMORE, Northern Ireland (AP) — Seeing difficult times ahead, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams appealed to thousands of IRA supporters Sunday to accept Northern Ireland’s compromise peace accord.
Adams’ party, an ally of the Irish Republican Army, held commemorations in both parts of Ireland honoring the executed commanders of the 1916 Easter rebellion against British rule in Dublin.
Sinn Fein’s support is key to the success of the historic, 67-page peace settlement reached Friday among negotiators from eight parties in the British-ruled province.
In his first public engagement since the agreement, Adams traveled to one of the north’s hotbeds of IRA support, the village of Carrickmore, where hail fell between sunbursts and a British army helicopter hovered overhead.
A half-dozen bands of young men and women marched through the village wearing black berets and Easter lilies, playing traditional anti-British tunes on fife, and chanting “I! I! I-R-A!”
In a half-hour speech, Adams said his negotiators had gotten all they could, and that in the talks’ final hours Prime Minister Tony Blair had pushed the Ulster Unionist Party — which represents much of the north’s pro-British Protestant majority — “much farther than the UUP wanted to go.”
The deal will create a new Northern Ireland Assembly and establish a formal link between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland — but it still keeps the north firmly tied to Britain.
When asked what they thought of Friday’s accord, many people lining the street in Carrickmore said they found little to suggest the north would ever be united with the rest of Ireland. Many thought it looked like an honorable retreat for the Catholic side.
“This agreement isn’t worth the paper it was put on. It’ll never work,” said Dessie McGraw, a mechanic from the nearby town of Omagh.
He gestured to the vast army and police barracks on the edge of Carrickmore and the old bullet holes that speckle its high protective walls of corrugated iron.
“I’d say them holes won’t be the last,” he said, suggesting that the IRA’s July 1997 truce wouldn’t stand the test of time.
In the agreement, the British government pledged to reduce “the numbers and role of the armed forces deployed in Northern Ireland to levels compatible with a peaceful society.” But it offered no specifics, tying any withdrawal of troops to “the level of threat” remaining from the north’s myriad paramilitary groups.
“Getting the prisoners home would be the main good thing I see” in the accord, said Sean Teague, a construction worker from the village of Greencastle, referring to the promise to free imprisoned IRA and pro-British Protestant militants within two years if their cease-fires hold.
“Sure that’s better than nothing,” he said, but “the other side must know we’re just going to keep pushing for more.”
Standing before a memorial to the 58 IRA men and women of surrounding County Tyrone killed since 1969, Adams said their sacrifices hadn’t been in vain — and that Sinn Fein hadn’t yet accepted every paragraph in the accord.
Although negotiators from the eight parties reached agreement, no party was required to sign the accord and acceptance by the parties as a whole is not a foregone conclusion.
David Trimble, leader of the key Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, is still trying to sell the accord to his party members. He outmaneuvered rebels within his ranks Saturday, winning support of the executive committee, but still has to win over the rank and file.
Adams said the accord’s provisions to create a reformed government for Northern Ireland that would be required to cooperate formally with Ireland had advanced the “goal of a free and independent Ireland.”
The accord, which must be approved in public referendums May 22 in both parts of Ireland, asks voters in the Irish Republic to drop the country’s constitutional claim to Northern Ireland.
Adams signaled that Sinn Fein would oppose this part. Northern Ireland’s six counties, he said, “are Irish counties. Nothing can change that.”