DUP must `play ball' - SF
DUP must `play ball' - SF

Sinn Fein has called on Ian Paisley's DUP to begin direct negotiations with republicans and called on the British government to push ahead with justice and human rights reforms.

Talks have been taking place in connection with the formal review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement currently underway, although the devolved government institutions set up under the Agreement have been suspended for some 16 months.

The DUP, which is taking part in the review, has so far refused to meet with Sinn Fein to discuss their plans for a new deal to replace the Good Friday Agreement.

In a wide-ranging speech to Sinn Fein party representatives from across Ireland at the weekend, Mitchel McLaughlin responded to the DUP's recent proposals-

He said: ``I say to the DUP - if you believe that remaining in the union with Britain in a constant state of dependency presents the best option then show some leadership and convince those of us that have a different perspective of the strength of your argument. If you are confident of your analysis then let the debate begin.''

He questioned the logic of the DUP position about direct talks with republicans before lauding what he claimed was a shift in DUP policy over power-sharing.

``The DUP proposals launched last week are a shift by that party from the never-never land politics that it has inhabited since its inception,'' he said.

He dismissed two options for devolution put forward by the DUP as non-starters. These included the devolution of power to the Assembly, without an executive; and the formation of a ``voluntary coalition'' which could only include Sinn Fein in the event of the standing down of the IRA.

However, Mr McLaughlin said the third option held merit.

``The third is in their own imitable way recognition by the DUP that power-sharing government is the only way forward. This option is I believe a shift and it brings the DUP into the ballpark of the Good Friday agreement politics. They're in the ballpark - now let them become players.''

The Sinn Fein chairman said British failures to uphold the agreement and to follow through with justice and human rights provisions has damaged the accord. He denounced the British government for ``undermining the agreement''.

The DUP responded to the McLaughlin speech, dismissing his ideas until the IRA was done away with.

Mr Robin Newton, as East Belfast assembly member, said: ``Republicans need to start addressing the real issues of guns, bombs, paramilitarism and gangsterism before pushing forward proposals for restructuring government. As unpalatable as it might to be to Sinn Fein/IRA, the terrorist organisation has to go away and go away for good.''

It was also confirmed at the weekend that Sinn Fein is proposing the establishment of three new departments in the Six County Executive as part of the Review of the Agreement.

It said that two new departments for Equality and Policing and Justice are both consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, and the third, a Department for Children and Young People, was raised in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In a newspaper interview, Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness described the DUP leadership as being in a period of ``transition'', but said they must be aware that nationalists would not accept a camouflaged return to unionist majority rule.

He said Ian Paisley would soon step down from the helm of the DUP.

``I would very surprised if Ian Paisley was still leader of the DUP by the end of the year, even by the end of the summer,'' he said. ``It appears the leadership is slowly but surely moving to Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds and we don't know where this will take us, so we will have to explore this.''

Mr McGuinness complained that the focus was solely on the IRA but that unionist politicians had not put any emphasis on the activities of the UDA and other unionist paramilitaries.

He also referred to ongoing activities of the British army.

``While you have a highly militarised situation in the north and ongoing concerns about the activities of unionist paramilitaries, do people seriously believe we are going to be able to deal with a situation in regard to the IRA in the fashion they want against that background?'' Mr McGuinness said.

``The IRA of all the armed organisations in the north of Ireland have made the most powerful contribution to the search for peace and continually has sought to enhance and on occasions save the peace process.''

``The key objective is to bring about a situation where there is a political process, the Good Friday Agreement implemented and the ending of all armed organisations except those to which the people give their allegiance.

``This is going to be a process. If people think republican leaders have the ability to bring this about overnight or next week in isolation from the activities of the British army and the activities of unionist paramilitaries then I think some of them are living in cloud cuckoo land.''

Meanwhile, the nationalist SDLP said both the Dublin and London governments should not let the suspension of the Belfast Assembly hold up the development of an cross-border initiatives.

In proposals for the review of the Good Friday Agreement, Mark Durkan's party also insisted that the First and Deputy First Ministers in any restored northern executive should be obliged to nominate other cabinet colleagues to meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council.

Dring the last power sharing administration, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, then First Minister, refused to nominate Sinn Fein Health Minister Bairbre de Brun for a meeting with her Dublin counterpart Micheal Martin.

The SDLP's proposals were launched by Mr Durkan ahead of their party conference this weekend.

And Seamus Close of the Alliance Party said he wanted the British government to establish a clear direction for the talks.

``I am very concerned at the lack of urgency and sense of purpose,'' he said.

``There seems to be a sense of hanging around, meeting up every now and then but with no real structure.''

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