Irish Republican News · March 3, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Hopes of a long-sought comprehensive deal to implement the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are being sustained by all sides in the peace process in an effort to dispel the impression that the process is in freefall.

Relations between Sinn Féin and the Dublin government are at a historic low, and the two sides are understood have had no communication for over a month.

One casualty of the current political deep freeze is the recent tradition of gathering party representatives with the US President at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day. It was announced this week that none of the North’s political leaders will be attending this year’s event.

A wave of political attacks, launched mainly by Dublin’s Justice Minister Michael McDowell, have buffeted Sinn Féin ahead of the British general elections in May. At its annual conference this weekend, the party is seeking to reconnect with voters and denounce allegations of Sinn Féin “criminality”.

Today, the 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, insisted his government had not abandoned the peace process and denied engaging in political “pointscoring”. He said: “The peace process is a collective responsibility that carries obligations for all of us, the parties as well as the governments.

He added: “We are not seeking to humiliate any group or score political points. We fully respect the mandates of all parties”.

The peace process has been stalled since efforts to secure a deal involving Sinn Féin and the Ian Paisley’s hardline unionist DUP collapsed in December.

The deal was rejected over unionists demands for symbolic ‘humiliation’ photographs of the Provisional IRA decommissioning its remaining weapons.

The failure of the Dublin and London governments to oppose an unachievable humiliation demand has fuelled republican anger and the conviction that the two governments have been negotiating in bad faith.

But Ahern today insisted the two governments were determined to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which he described as a “catalyst for change”.

“We have achieved a very great deal since the Agreement was concluded,” he said. “It has already been the catalyst for change in crucial areas such as policing, security normalisation, criminal justice, human rights, equality, community relations and language and cultural issues.”

There was some encouragement for the peace process this week from an unlikely source -- Ian Paisley, clearly cheered by the recent bashing of Sinn Féin in the 26 Counties, said he that he could still share power with nationalists -- but not those engaged in “criminality and rebellion”.

“if you have given up your criminality and given up your insurrection then we can do business with you on the basis of democratic principles,” he said.

“I have made it clear that as a democrat if people turn up with a mandate and if that mandate does not depend on criminality, does not depend on armed revolt and rebellion... I would face up to the fact that I would have to do business with them.”

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said he detected a readiness on the part of DUP head Ian Paisley to seek a resolution, and urged him to talk to Sinn Féin “as soon as possible”.

“Ian Paisley is, I think, in many ways acknowledging that the template of the Good Friday Agreement is the only way forward for us all, including himself.”

But he accused political leaders in the South of seeking to discredit his party regardless of the damage to the peace process.

Mr McGuinness said political rivals were scared of Sinn Féin success and were making “a huge mistake” in trying to undermine its reputation.

“This is totally and absolutely because the established parties in Dublin are frightened - scared out of their living daylights - of the huge increase in support for Sinn Féin, as shown in last year’s European and local government elections . . .

“I think they are making a huge mistake. I think that the people of Ireland will not look favourably on anybody who is prepared to effectively contribute in a negative way to the problems and difficulties that the process is facing at this time,” he said.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News