Participants in ongoing talks on the non-implementation of the Good Friday Agreement remain downbeat about the prospects for progress.
The Irish Prime Minister, who will meet with the British Prime Minister on Sunday, downplayed prospects for developments ahead of the June local and European elections.
“Whether we can make progress, sufficient progress, by the start of June, I am not so sure,” he said.
“But I think the determination (there is no lack of willingness by me or the British government) to start negotiations now and put as much work as we can over the next number of weeks and then see if we can take it up successfully later on. It is really important that we have a good summer.”
Mr Ahern met Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams earlier this week and appeared willing to improve relations with Sinn Féin after a virtual collapse over sanctions imposed on the party over its links with the IRA.
Mr Ahern went on: “Both of us certainly agreed that whatever arguments, whatever bitternesses that have been around for some time the big picture is the peace process.”
Mr Adams predicted that the pace of official public contacts and “intensive discussions, some of them understandably privately” will now intensify.
Such contacts were necessary, he said. “I think we are in for a continuation of the sort of bad atmospherics, a process which is in stagnation and increasingly where people don’t have any confidence that it is being sorted out.
“We go forward in hope. We are not naive about these matters. We know that these matters have to be tackled, have to be dealt with.
“The problems have not gone away. Don’t anyone think on a warm, sunny afternoon that these problems have gone away, but I think that we at least have the promise of a focused approach to try and resolve these problems.”
POLICING REFORM REPORT
One problem is the continuing slow pace of police reform in the Six Counties.
The new police oversight commissioner Mr Al Hutchinson in the Oversight Commission’s 10th report published on Tuesday, cautioned that the pace of reform to the RUC/PSNI special branch as envisaged by the Patten Commission was far from “stellar”.
A more detailed report on the Special Branch is to appear in September this year.
Patten recommended that Special Branch, previously described as a “force within a force”, should be subsumed into the general criminal division of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
It has so far remained unchanged, a fact which has prevented Sinn Féin from joining the Policing Board.
Mr Hutchison was critical of the Dublin Government for failing to enact the legislation necessary to allow the exchange of officers between the PSNI and the Garda.
Such legislation was in place in the North, but “unfortunately the lack of similar progress in the Republic of Ireland is an impediment to the exchange of police officers.”
Commenting on the latest report, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly said that it was ‘significant that the report still indicated that Patten had not been implemented five years on and showed the level of resistance to change which still exists’.
Mr Kelly said the report highlighted the outstanding issues: Special Branch; Demilitarisation of policing; Disbandment of the Full-Time Reserve; Human Rights training and culture; and Plastic Bullets.
He claimed Sinn Féin had already secured reforms through amending legislation on policing and amending legislation on justice issues.
“We now need to see legislation brought forward to transfer powers on policing and justice, as Patten recommended and was agreed in principle by the British government.”
Meanwhile, in Belfast, the review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was becoming a farce, according to Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy.
“The stop-start approach to the review by the governments is reducing it to the point of farce,” he said, following a meeting with government officials.
“If it is to serve the purpose for which it is designed there must be a time-tabled focused discussion of a range of issues. This has not happened to date.”
He said his party had again asked the governments to respond to proposals on the expansion of the All-Ireland agenda. We also raised particular concerns about the failure to deliver centres for Waterways Ireland and Autism.
“In the light of the British Secretary of State’s decision to go ahead with the imposition of penalties against both Sinn Féin and, in effect against those we represent, on the basis of a disgraceful and discredited report by the International Monitoring Commission we believe the review should convene a dedicated session to address the issue of breaches to the Agreement.
“Sinn Féin are not in breach of the Agreement. Others are.”