DUP talks boycott hinges on second apology

Nationalist confidence in the current talks process dipped this week as the the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern made a grovelling apology to DUP hardliner Ian Paisley for suggesting unionist demands for photographs of IRA weapons decommissioning could not be met.

Mr Ahern issued a full apology to Ian Paisley after the DUP leader became incensed at Ahern’s comments that the photographing of IRA weapons being destroyed was “not workable”.

The statement, following a Dublin meeting with Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, led Paisley to break off relations with the Government.

In his remarks to journalists, the Taoiseach said: “The Government’s position is that we were happy with [arms body chief] John de Chastelain. Then there was the issue of further witnesses. We were happy with that. We tried the issue of photographs. That’s not workable, so we have to try and find some other way. The big issue is that decommissioning, as I understand it, is ready to happen; is ready to happen as part of a comprehensive agreement. It won’t happen if we don’t get a comprehensive agreement. Let’s try to make it happen.”

Speaking alongside Mr Ahern, Mr Adams said “the photograph was never a runner, particularly since Ian Paisley described it as being part of a process of humiliation. The focus can be on words. The focus can be on photographs. It can be on all of these matters. But it needs to be on the substance of what has to be required, and then how that is verified and presented.”

Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams appeared to dismiss the question of photographs later on Monday after lengthy talks with Mr Blair and senior officials at 10 Downing Street.

“The photographs are dead and gone and buried in Ballymena,” declared Mr Adams, referring to the Ian Paisley’s now infamous “sackcloth and ashes” speech.

However, the DUP leader had flown into a rage in Ballymena at the suggestion that his writ was being challenged. He told journalists: “From day one until now Mr Ahern never opposed photographs, and [he] suddenly meets two IRA/Sinn Féiners and comes out and says: ‘It’s not workable, that’s out’.

“So anything the IRA says is not workable, he will bow to. He double-crossed Mrs McCabe [regarding the release of the Castlerea 4], he’ll not double-cross us.”

Dublin officials panicked. “Ian Paisley was very, very upset,” said one. “I think some people were a little worried that the reverend wouldn’t take the call.”

Mr Ahern quickly sought forgiveness from the Reverend, telling Mr Paisley that he still wanted IRA decommissioning to be photographed.

Paisley, however, did not lift his boycott of Dublin government Ministers and officials, instead demanding Mr Ahern put the apology onto the record of the Irish parliament later today [Wednesday].

Mr Ahern has said he will not apologise in public in parliament. But he is expected to use diplomatic language in the Dail today in a bid to ensure Mr Paisley attends a scheduled meeting with Dublin officials this afternoon.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, the British Direct Ruler, Paul Murphy and US President Bush’s special envoy, Mitchell Reiss, meet the parties in Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast.

A Government spokesowman said she “presumed” that Mr Paisley was not seeking a public apology. “We would presume that they are looking for the record to be straightened out.”


Paul Murphy said the option of restoring the Belfast Assembly had not been ruled out, pointing out that the legislation requires that an election be held following the end of the formal review of the Good Friday Agreement.

An election over a year ago led to advances for the DUP and Sinn Féin, a result which brought about the current talks to restore power-sharing.

“If after six weeks, the parties in the Assembly can’t come up with an executive, can`t come up with a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister, then they are required to go back to the people for another election,” Mr Murphy said.

“It is something which I doubt the people in Northern Ireland will particularly want, because they have only just elected an assembly.”


Meanwhile, the leader of the nationalist SDLP accused the two governments and Sinn Féin of bowing to DUP demands to change the Agreement.

Mark Durkan said the SDLP could be thrown out of the Executive if it failed to vote for, or abstained from, a motion to appoint a DUP first minister and Sinn Féin deputy first minister.

A Dublin government spokeswoman accepted that new rules would force all those interested in holding office to vote for the Executive.

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2004 Irish Republican News