Review to resume after elections
Review to resume after elections

It has been announced that the formal review of the Good Friday Agreement is to resume next Tuesday in Belfast. The North’s political parties are being invited this week to the talks, which will be attended by British and Irish ministers.

Progress had been reported in talks involving Sinn Féin and the British and Irish governments in behind-closed-doors negotiations on the Fáilure to implement the 1998 accord.

The announcement followed talks between the British Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, and members of Sinn Féin and the DUP in Belfast.

Mr Powell held two separate meetings with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the DUP MPs Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds at two different locations at Stormont parliamentary buildings outside Belfast. Senior officials from the Dublin government were also present.

Among the main issues in the review talks are British demilitarisation, policing, former combatants who remain ‘on-the-run’, and the future of the IRA.

As his party embarked on a final push for votes in the European Parliament and local council elections on Thursday and Friday, Gerry Adams said parties in the talks would enter the most difficult and challenging period of negotiations since the Good Friday Agreement next week.

With polls indicating that all the European constituencies remain too close to call, the West Belfast MP predicted the party would make significant political and electoral advances.

During campaigning in north Belfast with Sinn Féin’s Six County candidate, Bairbre de Brun, he said: “From canvassing in the north it is clear that people are frustrated at the Fáilure of the two governments, but especially the British government, to implement the Good Friday Agreement in full.

“However, people are not for giving up on the Agreement and they and we are determined to see the obligations and commitments in the Agreement honoured in full by all participants.

“In recent weeks, despite our busy schedule the Sinn Féin negotiating team has continued to hold intense discussions with the two governments.

“I believe we have made progress in these.

“The European and the local government election provide an opportunity for the nationalist and republican electorate to endorse our efforts and strengthen Sinn Féin’s mandate as we enter what will probably be the most difficult and challenging negotiations since the Agreement.”

Local devolved government in the Six Counties has been collapsed several times by the British government since the Agreement establishing the new political framework was overwhelmingly supported by referendum in both parts of Ireland.

The process has now been stalled since October 2002, when Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble convinced British Prime Minister Tony Blair to collapse the power-sharing Executive over allegations of IRA spying activity, allegations which have since proved unfounded.

Two attempts to revive the Assembly and power sharing executive Fáiled last year as the Ulster Unionists and the Irish and British governments reneged on commitments amid criticism that disarming by the Provisional IRA was not taking place in public.

The governments have since backed unionist demands for the Provisional IRA to disband or stand down. Despite these difficulties, including an election which saw the hardline unionist DUP become the largest in the Six Counties, all sides have continued to participate in negotiations.

The DUP has said it will not share power with Sinn Féin unless the IRA is wound down and there is total disarmament.

It has been reported that Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern are planning to join the negotiations before the end of this month.

There is a very short timeframe after the elections before the contentious Protestant marching season gets into full swing, when negotiations are traditionally suspended.

Welcoming the announcement that the Review is to begin again next week Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said that what he described as “intensive discussions” should be “qualitatively different” from those earlier in the year.

“We need to put in place the modalities and timeframe which would see an early resolution of all outstanding issues,” he said.

He added that for the talks to be productive, they “must be accompanied by an intensive effort to see the political institutions re-established and outstanding commitments honoured”.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News