Irish Republican News · August 17, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: SF FACE HIGH HURDLES
SF FACE HIGH HURDLES

Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party has said it it is willing to work with Sinn Féin in a Six-County power-sharing executive, but only if it supports the police, and the IRA ends its activities and and disarms in a convincing fashion.

The party’s deputy leader, Peter Robinson, said under such conditions, it would be possible that control of policing and justice could eventually be devolved to a restored Belfast-based administration.

However, the party is still refusing to engage in direct talks with Sinn Féin.

That party said that it was time for the DUP to respect Sinn Féin’s mandate as the largest nationalist party in the North.

And Sinn Féin chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin warned that republicans had little faith in the British government and its commitment to the peace process

In his newspaper article on Monday, Robinson demanded “certainty” that Sinn Féin was employing “exclusively peaceful and democratic” means. In such circumstances, the transfer of justice and policing powers was “no big move” for unionists, he said.

But he claimed that, at present, unionists could not tolerate a Sinn Féin minister for policing and justice.

Despite the extreme conditions, there was some degree of welcome by Sinn Féin that the DUP could accept the devolution of policing and justice powers to Belfast.

“The issues which need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive package have been identified,” said Mr McLaughlin, in response. “Nationalists and republicans acknowledge that there are issues of concern for Unionists.

“If the DUP accept that the range of issues which are of concern to nationalists and republicans must be dealt with, including the core issue of transfer of policing and justice powers away from London, then our collective responsibility is to move quickly to resolve these issues. This is a huge challenge but it has to be faced up at some point.”

Mr Robinson listed four issues that need to be settled in talks, to reach a climax in southern England next month, “if we are to succeed in reaching overall agreement”.

These are:

  • a “definitive and conclusive end” to paramilitary activity;
  • the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons “to an early time scale and on a convincing basis”;
  • a “clear commitment on all sides to the stability of the political institutions and to changes to their operation agreed within the talks”;
  • support for policing “from all sides of the community and an agreed framework for the devolution of policing.”

Following “completion on the key issues”, the DUP would “enthusiastically and robustly” sell an agreement to the wider unionist community, Mr Robinson claimed.

Decommissioning and an end to IRA activity “would transform the political climate and justify greater faith in the political process. It is in this context - with the structures and institutions settled in and the agreement consolidated - that unionists would be looking for the transfer of further powers.”

SF DOUBTS COMMITMENT

There is little expectation, particularly in DUP circles, that a conclusive deal will be reached in the short term.

As Sinn Féin members of the suspended Assembly and support staff discussed strategy this afternoon, Mr McLaughlin pointed out that republicans were not convinced of the commitment to progress by the two governments, especially the British government, and the DUP.

“Given the British government’s track record of failing to implement the Agreement, its breach of commitments made last October, its creation of the IMC and much more, there are many who believe it is failing the peace process,” he said.

“The British government therefore faces a major challenge in the immediate time ahead. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction as successive British governments did for decades.

“The reality at this time is that elements within the British system, the securocrats and the faceless pro-union bureaucrats of the NIO, are doing their best to subvert progress and to encourage the backward slide.

“If republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily.

Mr McLaughlin said the key problem issues which “all of the participants have a contribution to resolve” were:

  • The need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions;
  • The issues of policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of powers to the Executive and Assembly within a specific timeframe.
  • The issue of armed groups and of arms
  • The issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.

He said the British and Irish governments also have responsibility for other matters.

But he bemoand the fact that the DUP “is refusing to talk directly to Sinn Féin and has set so many pre-conditions for progress”.

He said this was a a challenge for that party but also for the two governments if the institutions are to be restored.

“We also raised with the governments but particularly the British government the Pat Finucane case and its reneging on its commitment to hold an inquiry, as well as the wider issue of collusion.

“Sinn Féin’s goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge.”

© 2004 Irish Republican News