SINN Fein president Gerry Adams jets into South Africa next week on a high-profile visit that includes talks with President Nelson Mandela.
His trip will bolster the Irish republicans in their talks with the British government over a political deal in Northern Ireland.
Adams will also meet Consitutional Affairs Minister Roelf Meyer and head of the Freedom Front, Constand Viljoen.
The visit has been arranged by the African National Congress so that Sinn Fein and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), can learn from the negotiations process in South Africa.
“Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams felt it would be of assistance if they could hold discussions with leaders involved in the negotiations here, especially because there are a number of striking similarities — and also important differences — between the two situations,” said a source in the ANC.
Although billed as a study visit, the meeting between Mandela and Adams will boost Sinn Fein’s international image and strengthen arguments that the situation in Northern Ireland can be settled “South African-style” through talks between Westminster and the Irish republican movement.
As leader of the IRA’s political wing, Adams has initiated a deal in which his movement’s guerrillas are holding to a ceasefire in exchange for direct talks with Tory ministers over the future of Northern
But these talks have not led to full-scale constitutional negotiations and are stumbling over two main issues: Sinn Fein is demanding the release of all political prisoners and the British government wants the IRA to surrender all its weapons.
“It is important to remember that these issues became part of the negotiations process and did not hold up constitutional talks in South Africa. The phased release of all political prisoners and the ANC’s agreement to hand over its arms caches came about while talks about the substantial settlement were taking place in good faith,” said the ANC source.
He said there appeared to be a “siege mentality” amongst some Tory and Ulster groups over talks with the IRA. “It is hoped that our experiences, our failures and successes, will be of value in helping to bring about a peaceful solution in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has briefed a firm of South African lawyers to look at the possibility of making a submission to the Cameron Commission, which is investigating illegitimate South African arms deals.
The Johannesburg-based lawyers have evidence of South African arms ending up with Northern Ireland “loyalist” groupings, which used terrorist tactics against Sinn Fein and the IRA.