SF push to become largest party
The British government is to begin a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement next month following Wednesday's election to the Belfast Assembly, it has confirmed.
British Secretary of State Paul Murphy said in a television interview that his government would resume efforts to restore local, devolved government by holding talks with the North's parties following the election.
The Assembly was suspended more than a year ago and the parties are going into the election against the background of a deadlocked political process following the collapse of a peace deal last month.
``What unites all the parties of Northern Ireland is that they do want devolution,'' Murphy said.
He admitted that trust and confidence between the parties had broken down. ``Doubtless after the election there will continue to be talks to re-establish that trust,'' he said.
``In addition, of course, under the terms of the agreement, there has to be a review of the agreement and that will start before Christmas too.''
Mr Murphy also appealed to voters not to stay at home this Wednesday.
``It's so very important people in Northern Ireland do exercise their democratic franchise,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister urged the electorate to ``choose the future not the past'' but stressed that it was ultimately a decision for them.
Speaking at a news conference at Lancaster House in London, Mr Blair made clear that the Good Friday Agreement was not for renegotiation by hardline unionists such as Ian Paisley's DUP and the dissident faction within David Trimble's more moderate UUP.
Blair said: ``We are now at the point in the politics of Northern Ireland where I can't make any more decisions, I can't renegotiate agreements, I can't rewrite those things that have already been agreed.
``The decision now is for the people of Northern Ireland and they are going to have to decide in a fundamental way whether Northern Ireland today is a better place than it was six, seven, 10 years ago, and if it is they are going to have to come and vote for it.''
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has said that `a vote for Sinn Féin is the best guarantee that there will be no renegotiation of the Agreement and that a strong and decisive Sinn Féin vote is a strong and decisive vote against the DUP and the rejectionists'.
Mr Adams said the Sinn Féin peace strategy had ``transformed'' the Six Counties.
``The DUP and rejectionists know this,'' he said. ``That is why they have made Sinn Féin a central plank of their campaign.''
``The strength of Sinn Féin's electoral support has made that difference. It delivers. For decades others failed to deliver change. They engaged in endless talks about talks.
``In our Local Councils, before Sinn Féin arrived, others accepted inequality, discrimination and second class citizenship, Sinn Féin Councillors did not. They confronted the bigots. They delivered change right across the six counties.
``A vote for Sinn Féin is the best guarantee that there will be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. A strong and decisive vote for Sinn Féin is a strong and decisive vote against the DUP.
``In this election we are asking people to endorse our work and to vote and transfer to Sinn Féin to maximise nationalist representation in the Assembly and the Executive and to return a Sinn Féin First or Deputy First Minister.''
Meanwhile, the DUP today has claimed its devolution proposals could win the support of nationalists even if Sinn Féin emerges as the largest nationalist party in the new Assembly.
Last week the DUP offered up its vision for devolution which put forward a number of ideas such as a voluntary coalition, or a system where power resides with the assembly rather than ministers, or an effective exclusion mechanism.
In a statement, the main unionist anti-Agreement party said despite its opposition to ``supporters of terrorism exercising executive power'', that did not mean an administration could not be formed.
The party said that no other form of local or regional government faced with the events of the last few years would have led to the collapse of the institutions.
Mr Campbell said: ``I don't know of any other form of administration in any democratic forum which collapses because one of the parties is involved in misbehaviour or illegal activity.
It is widely believed the DUP intends to go into the review of the Good Friday Agreement under the guise of renegotiating it.
Gerry Adams responded to the DUP's alternative models for devolution, saying: ``I don't think it's a runner.
``The principles, the ethos, the structures of the Good Friday Agreement are not up for negotiation or renegotiation.
``Obviously there are those issues which need to be implemented and the means of delivering those have to be discussed. That is why we are going to have a review to see what progress can be made in the time ahead.
``But you see what the DUP is doing is dishonest. It has always run away from negotiations in the past if you look at their entire history.
``However, the reality is the DUP is a party of failure and Ian Paisley has presided over the fragmentation of broad unionism.''