By Michael Heaney
Talks between the Irish and British governments, which culminated in the signing of the Downing Street Declaration last December, took a new turn on May 14.
The British government announced the receiving of a detailed list of questions from Sinn Fin via the Irish government seeking clarification of the Downing Street Declaration. For the previous four months, the government of John Major had refused to clarify for Sinn Fin certain points of the declaration.
The declaration still upholds the 1921 Government of Ireland Act, which enshrines the Unionist veto over the unification of the country. This veto has been a stumbling block to a lasting peace settlement.
Meanwhile, Britain's military machine rolls on. Thousands of British troops were moved into the nationalist town of Crossmaglen in south Armagh during April.
The British Army is now engaged in one of the biggest security operations in the history of the six counties. Extensive renovations to its security base, situated in the middle of the town, are expected to take four months to complete. A "ring of steel" has been erected around the town, with checkpoints on all approach roads leading into the area, and soldiers deployed in bunkers in the surrounding fields.
Within days of the invasion, local residents had organised resistance. According to Sinn Fein's weekly newspaper, Republican News, the local Gaelic Athletic Association on April 16 organised a march in the town attended by more than 500 people.
"The public meeting resulted in the election of a protest committee. Amongst those present were Sinn Fin councillor Francis Molloy and Bernadette McAliskey. The committee decided to send a petition to the Dublin Government detailing the situation and outlining its effect upon the local people."
The occupation of predominantly nationalist towns throughout the six counties by British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary security bases has harmed local economies.
On what is needed to push the peace process forward, Sinn Fin president Gerry Adams recently told the German newspaper Das Standard, "We need a demilitarisation. I have committed myself to that. I have called on all those involved to put down their weapons â the IRA, the British, the Loyalists, and I stand by that."
On the peace process itself, Adams said, "I believe we are in a crisis at the moment. If the British stonewall and refuse to move, everything will freeze â the Loyalists will step up their murder campaign and the British will intensify the military occupation."