Nationalists have denied claims last week from DUP leader Ian Paisley that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is dead and should be given a decent burial.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has urged the Dublin and London governments to defend the Agreement’s plan for a local, devolved power-sharing administration in the North of Ireland.

The 1998 accord was the high point of a talks process which saw the Provisional IRA end its armed struggle against British rule in the North of Ireland. While the IRA is currently debating an appeal by Sinn Féin to wind up, Paisley’s party is calling for direct British rule to be made more accountable to local politicians through a restored Belfast Assembly.

An attempt last year by Mr Blair and Mr Ahern to secure a deal involving the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed when the DUP demanded ‘humiliation’ photographs of IRA weapons being destroyed.

Last week, following talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday evening, Paisley ruled out a return to power-sharing and declared the Good Friday Agreement dead.

“I think it should be given a reasonable burial,” he declared.

He told reporters: “It never had the support from the unionist community it ought to have had to make it stick.

“The Prime Minister agreed with us it must be a new beginning. You just cannot go back and do the same thing over and over again.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said after separate discussions with Mr Blair that the agreement still stood and was “not negotiable.”

The 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, rejected Paisley’s comments and warned that the Agreement must not be re-negotiated again.

Mr Ahern said the agreement was reviewed for most of 2004 with political parties in the North and was accepted by the DUP before the aborted power-sharing deal last December.

“We’ve had the review and the review is finished,” Mr Ahern said after attending the seventh British-Irish Council summit on the Isle of Man yesterday.

“We respect the good relationships we have built up with unionism. But the basis for moving forward is with the Good Friday Agreement.”

Today, Mr Adams also pointed out that in last year’s negotiations the DUP had accepted the fundamentals of the Agreement were essential, albeit reluctantly.

“The reality, acknowledged by the Taoiseach (26-County Prime Minister Bertie Ahern) on Friday, is that any move forward in this post-election period has to be bedded in the Good Friday Agreement and in the acceptance by the DUP of the Agreement’s core principles,” the West Belfast MP said.

“These include power-sharing government on the basis of the d’Hondt formula; working with Sinn Féin in the Executive and in the joint office of the First and Deputy First Ministers; full participation in the other institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement including the all-Ireland Ministerial Council; the transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Executive; developing the all-Ireland institutions; accepting the need for equality and human rights; measures to counter sectarianism and racism; using their influence to remove all guns from society, including the weapons of Ulster Resistance.

“There is now an unprecedented opportunity to move forward. But this can only be achieved on the basis of equality, inclusion and mutual respect.

“The DUP can be part of the process of change or they can opt out. But they cannot veto progress. If they do not come on board, then the responsibility falls to the two governments to make progress with the parties who are committed to the Agreement and to moving forward in partnership and co-operation.”

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