The Democratic Unionist Party is to push for an alternative ‘Plan C’ -- which would see Sinn Féin excluded from political institutions in Belfast -- should the party fail to satisfy its demands in a future power sharing government.
Ian Paisley’s party has launched its campaign for the March 7 Assembly election despite significant internal dissatisfaction that the hardline unionist party could soon take the reins of power in Belfast in tandem with what an organisation it still refers to as “IRA/Sinn Féin”.
Despite the end of the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle, and Sinn Féin’s recent move to endorse the British PSNI police in the Six Counties, the DUP still refuses to hold direct talks with Sinn Féin.
While the DUP has yet to reveal its manifesto for the election, it has been confirmed the party is pressing for a so-called ‘Plan C’ mechanism. This would ensure that other parties would take control of government if Sinn Féin failed to abide by what the party described as “democratic standards”.
A March 26 deadline has been declared by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to form a new power sharing government of unionists and nationalists in the Six Counties. Previous deadlines in the peace process have not been observed.
However British Direct Ruler Peter Hain has warned that failure to share power by March 26 -- ‘Plan A’ -- would result in the Belfast Assembly being dissolved and the two governments putting in place new joint partnership arrangements for advancing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The so-called ‘Plan B’ would see a deepening and extension of the cross-border arrangement under the Good Friday Agreement, with more cooperation between Dublin and British Ministers on key policy areas.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness dismissed the DUP’s ‘Plan C’ claims. He said the overwhelming majority of people on the campaign trail were telling his party they wanted power sharing between the parties right away, and that the DUP were getting the same message.
“There is only one plan and it is that we have this election on March 7 so we can have the institutions up and running by March 26,” he said.
“I think if that doesn`t happen the two governments would be duty bound to move directly to the joint partnership arrangements they indicated they would move to.
“So it is neither Plan B or C for us. It is Plan A. It`s about being positive and moving into this election, putting our agenda to the people across a range of issues.”
Launching his party’s campaign, DUP leader Ian Paisley claimed Sinn Féin’s recent endorsement of policing had fallen short and took issue with a remark by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams that the party would “put manners” on the PSNI.
“There are too many ifs and buts and teaching people manners and all that sort of thing and I don’t think that is helpful.”
He also suggested Sinn Féin did not deserve any credit for encouraging people to assist the PSNI investigating the murder of Newry man Stiofan Loughran, who was stabbed in Derrybeg in the city on February 8th.
“It was one of their own, wasn’t it”, he told reporters.
Sinn Féin warned that the DUP was “a party in disarray”
SF South Down Assembly candidate Caitriona Ruane said some of those who took Paisley’s ‘never, never, never’ at face value “cannot come to terms with reality”.
She said: “If the DUP does not share power with Sinn Féin then ‘there is something worse in its place’, to quote ex-DUP Councillor Leslie Cubitt, referring to increased Dublin/London co-operation.”
Ms Ruane pointed to reports that senior DUP members in Ballymena are refusing to canvass for Ian Paisley, as well as the resignation of Jack McKee, a veteran Paisleyite, and the resignation of one of the founding fathers of the party, George McConnell.
“This is unprecedented territory for the DUP and it would come as no surprise to us if Ian Paisley finally balked at sharing power. In such circumstances it will have been the historic sectarian culture which undermines progress in the North and the unionist community will undoubtedly have to rethink the mandate they gave the DUP.
“For our part, the future is clear. There is no going back on the Good Friday Agreement and we will ensure that the two governments continue to implement change.”
Another councillor confirmed his resignartion from the DUP, claiming it had “gone too far”. Craigavon councillor Mark Russell said he had tendered his resignation to the party this week over concerns about power-sharing with Sinn Féin.
“Its clear that if you vote DUP in this election, you will be voting for Sinn Féin/IRA into government,” he declared.
TORY LEADER ON CANVAS
Meanwhile, British Conservative party leader David Cameron has called on voters in the North to leave behind “sectarian politics” while canvassing for his party’s candidate in North Down.
James Leslie is attempting to gain the first Tory seat in the Belfast Assembly in the North’s wealthiest constituency.
“I believe the Conservative Party has a lot to offer people in Northern Ireland because we ought to be getting away from sectarianism and voting on the basis of the community you belong to,” said Mr Cameron.
HHowever, Mr Cameron failed to say whether any potential Conservative Assembly members would designate themselves as unionists once in the Assembly.
The Conservatives will field nine candidates and hope to make a bigger impact than the 0.2 percentage points they gained in the election of 2003.