Supporters of the Good Friday Agreement in Unionism must assert themselves in defending and promoting the accord, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams insisted this evening.
With Ulster Unionists preparing for a showdown between pro and anti Agreement wings at their ruling council meeting on September 21, Mr Adams said it had the potential to create “a real crisis” in the Northern Ireland peace process.
The West Belfast MP said: “This is not a time for pandering to the No men of unionism.
“It is a time for democrats, including Yes unionists to assert the imperative of that Agreement.
“Given the nature of society here there was always bound to be difficulties about creating the conditions for the changes that are required and which should be the birthright of all citizens.
“The responsibility of all the pro Agreement parties and this includes both governments is to manage this process of change in a way which minimises the difficulties and avoids the potential for crisis.”
This month’s meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council was called last week amid concerns about allegations of on-going IRA activity.
Anti Good Friday Agreement unionists are expected to try to push party leader David Trimble into withdrawing from Northern Ireland power sharing executive because of concerns about alleged IRA activity in Northern Ireland and abroad.
Mr Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister, held talks in South Africa last night with the vice president of Colombia, Francisco Santos about the arrests last August and forthcoming trial of three Irish republicans on suspicion of training left wing FARC rebels.
Unionists have also expressed alarm at claims that the Provisionals were involved in the break-in in March at the top security Castlereagh police station and have initiated violence this summer on the streets of North and East Belfast.
Mr Adams today denied republicans had been involved “in orchestrating or fomenting violence in flash-point areas of the city.
He insisted: “Our opposition to sectarianism is absolute.
“All of our efforts have been to try and end the totally intolerable situation for the benefit of all people who are victims of these attacks.
“Given the failure of the First Minister to act we have also made a big effort to get the British government to ensure as the Agreement asserts, that people have the right to live free from sectarian harassment.”
Yesterday the Loyalist Commission, which includes paramilitaries, politicians and clergymen, called on the IRA to join with Loyalist terror groups to bring about a period of calm in flashpoint areas of Belfast.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble on Saturday also accused republicans of exploiting sectarian tensions in the city to score political points against the new Police Service of Northern Ireland and the rival nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party which has endorsed new policing structures.
The Sinn Fein leader today claimed the problems facing the peace process “were rooted firmly” in the power struggle and divisions within Mr Trimble’s party.
“If these problems grow into crisis proportions it will also be because the British government has failed to honour commitments it made both in the Good Friday Agreement and just over a year ago in the Weston Park talks,” he argued.
“This has created the space within which the crisis within unionism has festered.
“The vacuum, which has accompanied this, has been filled by sectarian violence from anti-agreement elements within the loyalist paramilitaries, not only in Belfast interface areas, although this has been a main focus, but in other parts of the north (of Ireland) as well.”
Mr Adams added that Sinn Fein was wedded to the current process but said his party had “a long term and strategic view” which sees beyond the current difficulties.