North’s politicians lend experience to Iraq

It has emerged this week that senior unionist and nationalist politicians from the North have been working to build relationships between Iraq’s warring factions.

The extraordinary talks in Finland at the weekend were led by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson.

“Huge strides forward were taken and we await with interest what will happen from here on in,” Mr McGuinness said.

The Deputy First Minister has previously sought to contribute to peace efforts in Sri Lanka, Palestine and elsewhere.

Around 30 members of Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ite communities attended the talks at an undisclosed location.

“They are power-brokers, they are people with enormous influence in that country, Mr McGuinness said.

“There’s no doubt whatsoever that the message that they bring back from Finland to Iraq is important - that we need to do things differently, we need to come together, we need to recognise that, whatever our differences, the only way forward is to unite.”

Mr Donaldson claimed that a “road map to peace” had been agreed using “principles of non-violence” from the North of Ireland.

“Agreement has been reached on the way forward between the parties and they are now going back to Iraq with these proposals,” Mr Donaldson added.

Former IRA prisoner Leo Green, who advises Euro MP Bairbre de Brun, and former unionist paramilitary leader Billy Hutchinson were also present.

The dialogue was arranged by former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari, who has been involved in the Irish peace process.

Delegates agreed to consult on 12 recommendations to start formal negotiations.

These included resolving political issues through non-violence and democracy, prohibiting the use of arms during the negotiations and forming an independent commission to supervise disarmament of militia in a verifiable way.

“It is welcome that progress has been made over the past number of days and the participants have agreed to a series of principles for moving forward peacefully in Iraq,” a Sinn Féin spokesman said.

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