By Mícheál MacDonncha
All parties in the Dáil agree that it was wrong for the British government to unilaterally cancel the Assembly elections in the Six Counties. They voted accordingly after a debate called by Sinn Féin TDs before the summer recess and on Tuesday in the Dáil the Taoiseach repeated that the postponement was a move ``we opposed and continue to oppose''.
But where to now? As the peace process was discussed in the Dáil for the first time since its return the focus was on the continuing talks and the prospect of agreement before elections are called. Bertie Ahern stated his view of what is needed: ``We need elections. We need to have an end to all paramilitary activity backed up by decommissioning. We need the Unionists to commit to sustaining stable and inclusive institutions. We need the two Governments to deliver on their commitments to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including those outlined in the Joint Declaration...''
The Taoiseach's requirements of unionists should be read in the light of the resolution passed by the Ulster Unionist Executive last Saturday. It effectively rejected the Governments' Joint Declaration and required a timescale for IRA ``acts of completion'' before the Unionists would re-enter an Executive with Sinn Féin.
It seemed more than wishful thinking, therefore, when Bertie Ahern said in the Dáil there ``not too many difficulties'' with what David Trimble is saying. Even more wishful, it seemed, when he said ``we have about a week'' to get agreement. Ahern said Trimble had confirmed to him that ``if he gets the necessary clarification and commitments, he is prepared to fight the election from a positive pro-Agreement stance and, if successful, to implement the Good Friday Agreement in terms of the Executive working in a cross-party and cross-community mode''. It will be interesting to see how the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minster hold Trimble to this `confirmation'.
Fine Gael's Enda Kenny got carried away with Ahern's positive portrayal of Trimble and spun it further. Now Trimble was ``prepared to fight elections from a positive perspective in the context of the completion of the Good Friday Agreement'', according to Kenny. No mention of the fact that the Trimble/Donaldson leadership has rejected much of the Good Friday Agreement. So, it must be the republicans' fault. ``We have not yet arrived at a point where sufficient trust and confidence is coming from the republican side to do the same,'' opined Kenny.
It was left to Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin to inject a note of reality. He said:
``Perhaps the Taoiseach will note that he has not embraced all the commitments given by him and his Government in the Good Friday Agreement. Can the Taoiseach confirm to the House that he has strongly pressed the British Prime Minister on the unacceptable delay in the Assembly elections? The Government and the Dáil have called for elections to take place before the end of the autumn. Will these elections proceed before Christmas 2003?''
The Taoiseach replied: ``Deputy Ó Caoláin asked me if I would readily admit that we still have responsibilities to carry out, and I readily admit that. I hope he will readily admit that his party has responsibilities to carry out, also.''
``The Taoiseach should practice what he preaches,'' replied Ó Caoláin.