Is Paisley preparing to compromise?
The prospects of a comprehensive deal involving the IRA and Ian Paisley’s DUP were boosted tonight with just four days remaining before the Dublin and London governments bring the current process to a close.
Negotiations on a deal to end paramilitary activity and secure a local power-sharing administration to Belfast have been edging forward slowly for months.
Proposals by the London and Dublin governments for bridging the gap between the two parties have been the subject of intense negotiations since they were drafted two weeks ago.
Mr Paisley again said tonight he was ready to do a deal -- provided the Provisional IRA ceased to engage in illegal activities. His comments to the media tonight were as strident as ever, but contained suggestions that he was contemplating a successful outcome.
Although he aggressively denounced Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as “bloody and deceitful men”, he said he would have to recognise their electoral mandate if they “give up their arms and give up their criminal acts”.
He also insisted that he was delivering “an ultimatum” to Sinn Féin.
“This is not negotiations with Sinn Féin. It’s an ultimatum to Sinn Féin. Are you going to continue to be terrorists or are you going to quit your terrorist path,” he said.
His message was more nuanced than his comments to a party meeting in Ballymena last weekend, when he declared that he wanted to “humiliate” the IRA.
Tonight, he spoke of his difficulty at coming to an agreement to share power with people he blamed for the death of his ‘kith and kin’. He was speaking after a meeting with the chief of the PSNI police on proposals for British Army demilitarisation of the North.
“I will have to do a good deal of swallowing,” he said. “I will have to do a good deal of biting my lip in future days. But I’m prepared to do that provided they cease to be terrorists.”
Mr Paisley’s meets with Tony Blair in Downing Street on Monday, and he will give his response to the final draft of the governments’ proposals on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Gerry Adams said Sinn Féin had made its final representations on the proposals.
He called on Mr Paisley “face up to his responsibilities to join in the collective challenge of peace making”, particularly his refusal to engage in direct talks with his party.
“The days of humiliation, of second-class citizens and of inequality are over and gone forever,” Mr Adams said. “If the DUP want to be part of a new and shared future, they will have to replace the mindset of humiliation with a new psychology of accommodation and generosity.”
However, the DUP has sought the publication of symbolic photographs of the IRA destroying its remaining caches of weapons. Sinn Féin has looked to the existing IICD arms body to supervise the decommissioning process.
Other Paisleyite demands threaten gridlock in any new Six County administration and undermine the principle of equality set down in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. They are alleged to allow unionists to veto the election of nationalist ministers and restrict the powers of cross-border bodies.
The issue of how the First and Deputy First ministers are elected also remains in dispute.
Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have given just four more days for a breakthrough.
Mr Ahern said tonight that ongoing negotiations had been an “exhaustive effort” but that the work was now done and decisions had to be made by the parties involved.
“Tony Blair and myself have to call it, to be precise, in four days,” he said.
He said the Good Friday Agreement provided the framework to achieve republican objectives through consent, harmony and friendship.
“No deal is perfect,” he said. “But what is in prospect is truly historic. It is also fair and reasonable.”