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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reynolds Bids to Save Irish Peace Pact

DUBLIN -- Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds hinted in remarks published Monday at concessions toward the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, to salvage an Anglo-Irish peace deal on Northern Ireland from collapse.

Reynolds said a Dec. 15 Anglo-Irish joint statement to end 25 years of conflict in Northern Ireland committed both governments to building a new Ireland and demilitarizing the conflict in the British-ruled province.

The statement "makes clear that both governments and both communities will become persuaders for a new agreement on the future of the whole island," Reynolds said. "The time has come to start the process of demilitarization of the Northern conflict."

The term "persuaders" was seen as a concession toward Sinn Fein, whose leaders complain that the Anglo-Irish statement does not put pressure on the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland to accept unification of Ireland.

Sinn Fein has called for years for the "demilitarization" of Northern Ireland, where 18,000 troops and 12,000 armed police are on alert against attacks by the Irish Republican Army, which is fighting to end British rule.

Reynolds's statement contrasted sharply with the stance taken by British Prime Minister John Major on Sunday when he ruled out any alteration or negotiation of the text of their Downing Street Declaration on Northern Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Fein's top officials, told British Broadcasting Corporation radio the IRA wanted to know whether the statement represented a first step toward British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

He said they wanted clarification about whether "this signaled the beginning of the process of bringing about an end to British rule in Ireland."

The political haggling takes place against a background of increasing violence. An IRA sniper killed a British soldier last Thursday.

A weekend IRA firebomb blitz caused millions of pounds of damage to Belfast shops in what Republican sources said was an attempt press Major to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

On Sunday night suspected Protestant extremists shot at the house of a Sinn Fein councillor in what appeared to be their first armed attack since the Dec. 15 joint statement.

Major said Sunday there could be no talks with Sinn Fein until violence ended: "The joint declaration is the offer made. It lies on the table and it will stay there for a period."