Amid wrangling over what might constitute the fundamentals of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Ian Paisley’s DUP has again cast doubt that a new agreement may be reached in the short term.
The DUP is demanding further details of a reported offer by the Provisional IRA to end its activities as part of a deal to secure the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is also insisting on stiff conditions for Sinn Féin’s participation in a Six-County administration in Belfast.
Meanwhile, the party has been told that must meet Sinn Féin face to face if they want their claims about achieving a deal to be taken seriously.
Addressing a DUP event at the annual conference of the British Conservative Party, the DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, said his party would “continue relentlessly” until a deal has been brokered.
“That goal can be achieved with the hard work and genuine efforts of all those involved,” he said. “Some may have wanted another quick fix from ‘hot-house’ negotiations, but the prize on offer is much too great to waste on another deadline deal.”
The DUP has demanded fundamental changes to the basic structure of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular how the power-sharing assembly would work.
At the same time, the party has demanded the text providing the detail of the proposed IRA “acts of completion”.
However, there was also a warning at the conference from the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, that the DUP risked “losing the opportunity”.
After the original sense of urgency around the talks at Leeds Castle in southern England last month, the Ulster Unionist leader said there was now “a sense of things slipping away”.
And “while the DUP might be congratulating themselves on their conduct of the negotiation with London and Dublin”, Mr Trimble maintained, “the DUP’s failure to engage (with republicans) is part of the reason why things are slipping away”.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said the DUP’s ban on direct contact with republicans was “insulting”.
He pointed out that the DUP currently discuss matters with Sinn Féin on local councils, devolved Assembly committees and in television studios.
“Yet they continue to refuse to sit down around a negotiation table and try and find a resolution to the outstanding matters.”
He said nationalists and republicans who were “deeply sceptical” of the DUP commitment to reaching a deal would be “somewhat reassured” if the DUP began to recognise “basic democratic mandates and standards”.
Nationalists have warned that DUP efforts to change the Good Friday Agreement is an attempt to return to a crude form of unionist majority rule.
The DUP has said that ministers should be more “accountable” to their cabinet colleagues and the Assembly given the power to overturn unpopular ministerial decisions.
The DUP has also challenged the operation of the cross-border co-operation between administrations in Belfast and Dublin under the 1998 peace accord
Earlier in the week, the DUP’s Peter Robinson said his party accepted a list of fundamentals he claimed was put to it by the British government: the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means; no constitutional change without consent; and cross-community participation in devolved government.
The nationalist SDLP has since slammed the list as “shoddy”, citing for example, the guarantee that there could be no united Ireland without majority consent.
“But every bit as fundamental to nationalists is the fact that if a majority votes for a united Ireland, there has to be one,” said SDLP leader Mark Durkan.
“The British list does not mention that there have to be ministers with authority to take decisions, yet that is essential to the agreement and to any form of proper government.
“And this flawed list does not even mention the fact that the first ministers have to be elected together and lead together as equals. This is crucial. If the first ministers won’t even stand for election together, they are hardly going to work together. The list does not even mention north-south cooperation.”
Sinn Féin’s Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said the fundamentals of the Agreement were “power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions, human rights and crucially the checks and balances, and the protections designed to prevent unionist abuse of power” -- and were not up for negotiation.
Speaking after a week of intensive discussions with both governments, he said that a comprehensive deal was only possible within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Sinn Féin are up for a deal,” he said. “We have been working hard with both governments all week to try and achieve progress but the bottom line is that the DUP need to accept that a comprehensive deal is not possible short of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Sinn Féin will not settle for anything less than the Agreement.”