Dissent at deal within DUP

The representative of Ian Paisley’s DUP at the European Parliament, Jim Allister MEP, has resigned following the party’s deal to begin sharing power with Sinn Féin in May.

Although the majority of the DUP’s hardliners have grudgingly backed the deal, Allister has resigned from the party for the second time, saying his “stomach turned” at television images showing both parties’ negotiatiors sitting together.

Until the Provisional IRA’s army council was “abolished” Sinn Féin would “not be fit” to enter government in Belfast, Allister said yesterday.

He said his decision was confirmed when he saw television footage of the Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams sitting together at Stormont. “Like a lot of people whom I’ve spoken to today, my stomach turned at what I saw.”

“Sinn Féin, in my view, is not fit for government, nor can it be in a few weeks.” He had been fighting a “protracted battle” over recent months against the “premature” formation of a DUP/Sinn Féin executive.

It was a long-standing pledge of the DUP that the “military structures” of the republican movement must go. “Now, it seems, the army council can stay. Then, I can’t.”

Two DUP councillors in Dr Paisley’s North Antrim constituency have already resigned over the deal. Hardline MPs such as Gregory Campbell and Willie McCrea have supported it, although fellow MP David Simpson said it was “premature” in the absence of any “credible testing period [of Sinn Féin]”.

South Down assembly member Jim Wells, who is also considering his position within the DUP, has said that the last few days have been “gut-wrenching and extremely painful”.

Ian Paisley’s wife, Eileen, said deciding to sit down for his first face-to-face meeting with Gerry Adams was “a hard struggle” for Ian Paisley but he had “no alternative”, referring to the threat by the Dublin and London governments to introduce all-Ireland government measures.

Asked whether she had ever thought the day would come when her husband entered government with Sinn Féin, Mrs Paisley said: “No, not for a long time because it never seemed to be the right time. “Whenever we were on the brink of getting somewhere something always happened...”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has said in a BBC interview that his party needed to be sensitive to the DUP needs.

While Mr Adams refused to say if the Provisional IRA’s army council would be disbanded ahead of May 8th, he said that “the IRA would continue to be a catalyst for the peace process”.

The following is the full text of the statement delivered by Ian Paisley at Stormont on Monday:

“In 2003 the DUP became the largest political party in Northern Ireland and the last three and a half years has seen our strategy deliver very significant advances for the unionist people.

Our goal has been to see devolution returned in a context where it can make a real and meaningful improvement in the lives of all the people of this part of the United Kingdom. On March 7, the unionist community gave us a mandate to deliver on this pledge.

On Saturday the DUP Executive overwhelmingly endorsed a motion committing the party to support and participate fully in government in May of this year. This is a binding resolution.

In the past the Government has set arbitrary deadlines but now, as laid out in our resolution, we, as a party, have agreed the timing, the setting- up and working of the institutions. Today, we have agreed with Sinn Féin that this date will be Tuesday May 8, 2007.

As the largest party in Northern Ireland, we are committed to playing a full part in all the institutions and delivering the best future for the people of Northern Ireland.

In the period before devolution we will participate fully with the other parties to the Executive in making full preparations for the restoration of devolution on May 8.

This meeting represents an important step on the road to the setting-up of an Executive in six weeks’ time. It has been a constructive engagement and we have agreed that in the weeks between now and the restoration of devolution on May 8 there is important preparatory work to be carried out so that local ministers can hit the ground running.

This will include regular meetings between the future First and Deputy First Minister.

The work must begin as quickly as possible and we have been considering a work programme to bring us to the agreed date for devolution which we are now asking the Government to legislate for.

There is still vital work to be done to ensure the most favourable financial package possible is in place to allow devolution to succeed and prosper. To this end we have agreed with Sinn Féin to seek an early meeting with the Chancellor.

In the next few days detailed work will begin, involving all of the Executive parties, to allow a programme for government to be finalised for the start of devolution. This will require regular meetings in the next few weeks.

The two parties have already asked the Prime Minister to ensure that no water charge bills should be issued and the matter should be left for a local Executive to determine. We hope, trust and believe that the Secretary of State will listen to the voice of the people of Northern Ireland.

After a long and difficult time in the province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for Northern Ireland.

Devolution has never been an end in itself but is about making a positive difference to people’s lives. I want to make it clear that I am committed to delivering not only for those who voted for the DUP but for all the people of Northern Ireland.

We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future.

In looking to that future, we must never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging. We owe it to them to craft and build the best future possible and ensure there is genuine support for those who are still suffering.

With hard work and a commitment to succeed, I believe we can lay the foundation for a better, peaceful and prosperous future for all our people.”

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