Sinn Féin leaders are meeting party members across Ireland as efforts continue to try to forge an historic deal involving the IRA and Ian Paisley’s DUP.
The British and Irish governments delivered proposals to the two parties on Wednesday, outlining their view what would be necessary to bring about IRA disarmament and the return of the Belfast Assembly at Stormont.
The DUP’s Assembly party today unanimously endorsed the party’s negotiating strategy, but party figures refused to comment further.
The party leader, Ian Paisley, earlier contradicted reports that his party was satisfied with what was on offer. He indicated that the DUP was still looking for guarantees about what the IRA would do.
On the document presented by both governments, Mr Paisley said: “Initial scrutiny shows that there are some areas of confusing ambiguity and even apparent inconsistency.
“We will also want to have clarification on a number of matters where there is a lack of detail or the use of imprecise text.”
Despite signs that republicans are less than satisfied with the proposals, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said that he was taking a “positive approach”.
Speaking after a tense four-hour-long meeting with the Dublin government on Wednesday, Mr Adams said that if more work was done “then there could be the basis for forward movement”.
He described the process and talks with the British and Irish governments as work in hand.
The party’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the parties were involved now in the most critical discussion process for many years.
He said that his party was looking for a deal which could be the basis for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. But he said matters concerning the faithful implementation of the Agreement needed to be resolved.
There have been conflicting signals as to when such a deal could emerge, with some sources indicating that a deadline of the end of the month is unlikely to be met.
Dublin and London are said to be examining a number of possibilities that would meet the DUP requirement for photographic evidence of the decommissioning, but would not be seen as an attempt to humiliate the IRA. Sinn Féin negotiators are opposing the proposal, despite a suggestion that the photographs would only be shown to a limited number of unionists.
Another major outstanding difficult is over the DUP’s demand for the decommissioning to be concluded before they would agree to join an Executive, even in a powerless ‘shadow’ form. Republicans recall the failure of David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists to carry through on a similar deal last year, even after the IRA had made a verified act of decommissioning.
- In a change to the voting procedure for the Office of First
Minister and Deputy First Minister, the governments have backed
a proposal for collective endorsement of the Executive (and its
nationalist and unionist ministers) by the Assembly.
This would result in parties nominating ministers and then a single vote to collectively endorse the whole Executive -- again requiring potentially difficult cross-community support.
Sinn Féin has been accused of making a strategic error on this issue by SDLP leader Mark Durkan. He warned that the proposal could “give the DUP the ability to politically vet nationalist ministers”.
- The positions of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
would be simply allocated to parties on the basis of party
strength (along with the other Ministerial positions) -- ending
the original plan for a coalition of nationalist and unionist
leaders to share the positions.
- This is to be a strengthened Ministerial code, made statutory
to ensure, for example, that Sinn Féin ministers cannot act in a
freelance way. They will be bound by a code more rigorous than
the current pledge of office.
- On the north-south structures, if there is going to be
anything done in the future it has to be agreed by the assembly
-- again potentially risking a DUP veto. The existing
operations would be subject to a review.
- It is understood that matters such as British demilitarisation and ‘on the runs’ are being dealt with separately from the main paper put forward by both governments.