CASTLEBELLINGHAM, Ireland – Sinn Fein leaders said Friday they were "not impressed" with a joint British-Irish plan to inspire Irish Republican Army disarmament, the long-unresolved issue unraveling Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord.
Discussing strategy for several hours at a village hotel north of Dublin, the IRA-linked party said Britain hadn't promised enough cutbacks in military bases and troops, particularly along the highly militarized border with the Republic of Ireland.
"At first glance, I am not impressed by what I see on demilitarization. It's not what was promised three years ago, and it's not likely to impress the people I represent," said Conor Murphy, the party's senior official in South Armagh, a Catholic border region where British forces maintain a network of watchtowers to monitor IRA activity.
In the complex document unveiled Wednesday, Britain pledged "a progressive rolling program reducing levels of troops and installations in Northern Ireland" — if the threat of terrorism declined.
Instead, armed hard-liners on both sides of the Northern Ireland divide have spent the past week increasing their violence.
An overnight car-bomb attack blamed on IRA dissidents wounded seven people in London. On Wednesday, soldiers defused another car bomb at Northern Ireland's major airport.
The menace posed by anti-Catholic extremists — also supposed to be observing cease-fires in support of the Northern Ireland peace deal — was demonstrated again Friday as police seized five pipe bombs, a homemade grenade and 300 rounds of ammunition in Ballysillan, a hard-line Protestant neighborhood in Belfast.
Police have linked the major outlawed Protestant group, the Ulster Defense Association, to the killings of two people last month and scores of pipebomb attacks on Catholic homes.
Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, a fruit of the 1998 peace agreement, faces suspension or collapse by Aug. 12 because leaders of the major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, are no longer willing to share power with Sinn Fein.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who triggered the crisis last month by resigning as the administration's senior Protestant, insists he would seek re-election by the Aug. 12 deadline only if the IRA starts to scrap weapons, as a series of earlier agreements envisioned should happen.
An Ulster Unionist delegation met Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, John Reid, Friday to discuss British plans for reforming the province's mostly Protestant police force, another key Catholic demand.
"The amount of stupidity that I have heard talked about policing in recent months is the worst I have ever heard," said Reg Empey, a senior Ulster Unionist, who argued that recent violence made it a poor time to shake up the police department.