SF calls for talks as unionists back exclusion
SF calls for talks as unionists back exclusion

Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin has said that all of the parties and the two governments needed to start preparing for intensive political negotiations to take place after the election if progress was to be made before the summer months.

“Experience tells us that the summer months are not the best time to try and engage in constructive political negotiations,” he said. “Therefore only a narrow window exists in the weeks after the May 5th election to see a meaningful engagement constructed and real progress made in overcoming the impasse in the political process.”

In the Ulster Unionist Party’s election manifesto message, David Trimble indicated that his party would seek to form a ‘voluntary coalition’ with the natioanlist SDLP -- but not with Sinn Féin.

Ian Paisley’s DUP coined the phrase as a counter to what it described as a “mandatory coalition” -- the inclusive power-sharing envisaged under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which it vehemently opposes.

On a future devolved government, DUP Deputy leader Peter Robinson said this week that Sinn Féin had “excluded itself”.

“The DUP cannot foresee when, if ever, republicans will genuinely and fully measure up to the entry conditions [to power-sharing] we agreed with government,” he said.

“We are adamant that we will never participate in setting up any government with a party which is unable to meet the agreed entry standards.”

The ‘voluntary coalition’ plan calls for the abandonment of the d’Hondt formula for the distribution of Ministerial portfolios according to party strength, avoiding the requirement to share power with Sinn Féin.

David Trimble said his UUP had concluded that while republicans are prepared to offer “more process”, they do not want to give up what he called “their private army”.

He explained that consequently the UUP does not intend to share power with Sinn Féin.

Mr Trimble said: “It is clear, moreover, that the unionist electorate would not support, or tolerate now or in the foreseeable future, the formation of an executive that would include Sinn Féin.”

The DUP has suggested power could be shared with a weakened SDLP, following the election.

“While they are playing coy now, perhaps after the election, when their bravado is tempered by the electorate’s response, a higher level of reality might cause a re-think,” said Peter Robinson.

But the SDLP’s Mark Durkan has ruled out any plan that would exclude Sinn Féin from the Northern Executive, apparently scuppering the unionist plan.

The SDLP leader at the launch of his party’s manifesto that such a proposal was “not on the agenda” because it was contrary to the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Durkan delivered direct messages to the UUP leader David Trimble and the DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson yesterday.

“Some people might regard it as touching that they want to do a nice little voluntary coalition with the SDLP, and somehow Sinn Féin can be made to stand aside from that. But that is not on, because it was not the way we negotiated the agreement.”

To Mr Robinson he said: “I put inclusion into the agreement. I have stood strong against every trick and tactic to take it out. That’s why, in response to Peter Robinson’s calls now for voluntary coalition, I say: it’s not on the agenda. It’s just not on.

“Peter, you might have been able to negotiate a new British exclusion law and a version of voluntary coalition with Sinn Féin in your December deal. But you will never get the SDLP to break the agreement. And you know it.”


The DUP continues to refuse to hold direct talks with Sinn Féin.

Mitchel McLaughlin said the recent initiative by Gerry Adams on April 6th, in which he urged the Provisional IRA to embrace only political and democratic means, should provide the necessary space and incentive for talks.

He said the appeal by Mr Adams directly to the IRA, presented challenges for everyone.

“It presents a huge challenge to the IRA and to IRA Volunteers. It also presents a huge challenge to all of the other participants in the process to help build the political alternative.

“It is a challenge to the British government to face up to its responsibilities on equality, human rights, demilitarisation, justice and policing.

“It is a challenge to the Irish government to address northern representation in the political institutions of the Irish state and to defend the Good Friday Agreement

“It is a challenge to unionism to finally accept the need for equality, human rights, inclusivity and mutual respect. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to make progress, to finally and conclusively deal with the outstanding issues and to see the Good Friday Agreement realised in full.

“There is a collective responsibility to seize this opportunity to build on the enormous potential that now exists and to demonstrate that the political alternative does work, that it does deliver....

“For this to happen the political parties and more importantly the two governments need to start preparing for such a negotiation process now.

“Sinn Féin are willing and ready to engage, the April 6th initiative is evidence of that. The other parties now also need to start stepping up to the mark.”

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