Talks breakthrough possible - McGuinness

The Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, has said if the DUP's Devolution Now document is a negotiating rather than a ``bottom line'' position, then it is possible that devolution can be restored.

The document was presented to the parties involved in the ongoing review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The review, which only met three times, is now on a two-week break.

Mr McGuinness, however, said that he suspected the DUP's proposals contained a concealed mechanism to restore majority unionist rule, and that he did not accept that the party had signed up to proper power-sharing with nationalists and republicans.

He focused on one of the DUP's three models for devolution - the mandatory coalition model - which would come into effect if the IRA gave up its arms and ended activity.

Mr McGuinness said he saw a potential booby-trap in mandatory coalition as the DUP's paper states that this model ensures that ``ultimate power would rest with the Executive as opposed to the individual departments''.

Previously, individual ministers in the last executive had some autonomy that allowed them make decisions for their respective departments free of normal collective cabinet control.

Mr McGuinness feared this was a ruse whereby unionist ministers, by having a majority of six against four in the cabinet, effectively could exercise unionist control.

He said Sinn Fein also opposed the DUP proposal where, failing a majority of nationalist and unionist politicians adopting particular key motions, 70 per cent of the assembly could pass such motions. This effectively could exclude Sinn Fein.

Both these proposals were unacceptable to Sinn Fein. ``But if these are negotiating rather than bottom-line positions, then perhaps business can be done,'' said Mr McGuinness.

``These are matters that have to be explored in the review,'' he said, insisting that the essence of the Good Friday Agreement must not be undermined.

Mr McGuinness said it was also a key issue for Sinn Fein that the DUP should deal with Sinn Fein in face-to-face talks, rather than through the British and Irish governments.

``Unionism cannot be allowed to paralyse the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. If the DUP are serious about reaching accommodation with nationalists, they must recognise that this can only be done by speaking to Sinn Fein, who represent the majority of nationalists.''

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party has criticised the DUP's devolution blueprint and said Sinn Fein would be ``foolish'' to reject it.

Senior UUP negotiator Sir Reg Empey said some of the DUP's proposals for a new Assembly would let republicans off the decommissioning hook by allowing a form of devolved government to continue at Stormont.

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