‘Groundhog day’ talks must end - Hain
‘Groundhog day’ talks must end - Hain

DUP leader Ian Paisley has said that his party “will not be bullied” by a British government which has declared that a November 24th deadline for an agreement in talks is legally binding.

The DUP is being urged to agree to share power with Sinn Fein in the North of Ireland, but with the deadline for agreement just weeks away, the party is still refusing to hold direct talks with Sinn Fein.

Speaking at a breakfast event at the Labour Party conference, Mr Paisley said “unionists do not like threats” and the British government should stop putting pressure on them.

Paisley, who was accused by nationalists last week of engaging in a ‘pub-crawl of preconditions’ ahead of intensive talks in Scotland next month, warned that people could become more obstinate.

“I am not playing games with the future of Northern Ireland. I am not playing one prime minister off against another,” he said. “But neither will I be threatened by a view that Northern Ireland’s problems must be resolved by November 24, irrespective of our needs.”

Also speaking at the fringe of the Labour party conference, Sinn Fein MP Doherty said there were “big challenges and decisions ahead for the DUP in regard to sharing power and on the equality and all Ireland agenda”.

Sinn Fein is ready to move forward “but it remains to be seen whether or not the DUP is”, he said.

British Direct Ruler Peter Hain later said he agreed with Mr Paisley that “Sinn Fein have to come up to the mark on policing and the rule of law”. He also said that “bullying and threats do not work” but that the peace process cannot “keep going round the same circle”.

Mr Hain said the advantages of success in the talks were “enormous for elected politicians”, while the implications of failure were “enormous for the people of Northern Ireland and for the politics of Northern Ireland.”

The Belfast Assembly is due to be scrapped if agreement is not reached, and Mr Hain pointed out that this would mean the end of wages and expenses for Assembly members and support staff. In his keynote speech, he made no reference to the so-called contingency ‘Plan B’, understood to call for co-operation on the government of the Six Counties between Dublin and London and strongly opposed by the DUP.

He told Labour party delegates: “Northern Ireland has seen many deadlines. Seen many come. Seen many go. But this one we’ve put in law.”

With Mr Paisley and his son, Ian Paisley jnr, sitting in the body of the hall, Mr Hain went on: “The process cannot be allowed to become an end in itself. People in Northern Ireland are sick and tired of having their very own political ‘groundhog day’ - and it’s time it came to an end.”

Mr Hain has indicated that he will be preparing a document ahead of these talks showing the areas of agreement and the areas of remaining disagreement.

However, he cautioned: “If the governments are not able to make a positive assessment by the end of the talks in Scotland then we will have to say so; and have to say there is not much more we can do. And the clock will start the countdown to midnight on November 24 when this building [Stormont Assembly] closes up. I hope we won’t be in that position.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News