A proposal for a fresh round of multi-party negotiations at Stormont to deal with outstanding issues in the peace process is endangered by the ‘negativity’ of the DUP, Sinn Fein has warned.
More than two weeks on from an announcement that talks would take place on the issues of flags, parades, and the past -- issues which were addressed by US mediator Richard Haass last year, but without success -- there is still no date for the talks to start.
A party leaders’ meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday of next week. However, there has been no indication that this might signal the beginning of a revived talks agenda.
British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers this week urged the five main parties to fix dates for the planned new talks, to involve two rounds of three-day sessions, as soon as possible. She said it was “really crucial” to take advantage of the next few weeks before the height of the parading season.
But Sinn Fein’s Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy accused Villiers of “providing cover for unionism’s failure” to engage in the political process. Mr Murphy said Sinn Fein had already set aside ten days up to July 3 to facilitate the latest all-party negotiations. He said the only blockage to the talks was from the main unionist parties.
“The DUP and UUP have both been dragging their feet on arranging dates for discussions to take place,” Mr Murphy said.
“It is also disingenuous for the British secretary of state to attempt to distance her government from responsibility for unionist intransigence.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt blamed the OFMDFM (Office of First and Deputy First Minister), which he said had yet to put together a support network including legal and legislative experts “which the Haass talks were sadly lacking”.
Speaking at his party’s annual commemoration at Bodenstown Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told party members that the North had been “transformed”, but many issues remained outstanding.
“The British government is refusing to keep agreements made since 1998,” he said.
“Sixteen years after the Good Friday Agreement it has failed to implement important elements, such as a Bill of Rights and Acht na Gaeilge.
“When taken with its decision to unilaterally end its Weston Park commitments to resolve the OTR issue, and its refusal to establish an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, the British Government strategy is undermining the political process.
“Encouraged by this, there has been an effort by unionist parties to reverse progress made since 1998.
“This cannot be allowed. Issues of the past, flags and parades must be addressed. The Haass compromise proposals provide a clear way forward. They must have the unambiguous support of the Irish and British governments.”
The Sinn Fein leader, speaking at the graveside of Irish patriot Wolfe Tone, said the DUP and UUP had failed to face down ‘rejectionists’.
“We see no evidence that the DUP is willing to approach this process in a positive, constructive way,” he said.
“Let me be clear - Sinn Fein will continue to stretch out the hand of friendship to our unionist neighbours. We will uphold everyone’s civil and religious rights.
“But we will also stand firmly and robustly against the bigots, the racists and the sectarian fundamentalists. They and their political cheer leaders are on the wrong side of history. Change may be delayed but it cannot be stopped.”