Irish Republican News · January 14, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Trimble against proposal to bypass DUP

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble last night questioned the point of holding talks on voting rules in the Belfast Assembly in an apparent hardening of his position ahead of the all-party review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, to get under way at the end of the month.

It has been suggested that a change to the voting rules could prevent Ian Paisley's DUP from blocking the return of the North's power-sharing institutions following its strong performance in the November Assembly election.

The rules currently require a motion to win the separate and simultaneous support of the unionist and nationalist blocs at the assembly before it is passed. If this was replaced with a simple weighted majority, the opposition of the staunchly anti-Agreement DUP could be circumvented.

But the suggestion received a chilly reception from Mr Trimble.

``If there is a political crisis, it is the same crisis today as that which existed before the election,'' Mr Trimble said.

``The `problem' is not the DUP's election victory but the inability or unwillingness of paramilitary-related parties to commit themselves fully to the democratic process.''

The Ulster Unionist leader said that in such circumstances, while an examination of the voting arrangements in the assembly or the functioning of the committee system or the d'Hondt formula would be a worthwhile exercise if we had an assembly, it was somewhat pointless otherwise.

``What is the point of reviewing the rules and regulations if the assembly is never going to sit because paramilitaries will not wind up their criminal activities? Frankly, it is as if the NIO wishes to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.

British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy is to meet with the North's political parties this week to discuss how the review Agreement should be conducted.

A target date of January 29th has been set for the beginning of the review, but Mr Murphy wants more detail from the parties on how the process should be structured. The review will be co-chaired by the British and Irish governments.

Sinn Féin's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness has stated that the two governments ``must not be paralysed by negative Unionism'' and must fulfil their commitments under the terms of the Agreement.

Mr McGuinness was speaking ahead of a visit to Switzerland, where he will join international power-brokers at the World Economic Forum.

``An anti-Agreement minority cannot be allowed to over-ride the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Ireland,'' he said.

``Democratic and human rights are not conditional. The British government should immediately lift their unilateral suspension of the political institutions and proceed with the equality, human rights and demilitarisation agendas without further delay.''

The DUP's Gregory Campbell has called for a new political agreement and claimed almost two thirds of the unionist community had backed his party's position.

``Surely the lesson of our history is that deals done without the support of both unionists and nationalists are doomed to fail. There is no prospect of success in going down any path that does not acknowledge the assembly election result.''

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has rejected an Ulster Unionist Party proposal to establish special shadow Assembly committees to scrutinise the work of the North's four direct-rule ministers, including Mr Murphy.

Sinn Féin's Assembly team leader Conor Murphy said the proposal was ``shallow'', and would ``provide no real accountability and indeed would provide cover for NIO Ministers''.

He said: ``We need to get the real Assembly committee structures in place that can hold Ministers fully to account.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News