Cowen assumes FF leadership, backs process
Cowen assumes FF leadership, backs process

Tanaiste Brian Cowen has been elected leader of Fianna Fail unopposed and is set to become 26-County Taoiseach when Bertie Ahern steps down on May 6.

At a press conference marking his ascension, Mr Cowen said Fianna Fail, the dominant party in the Dublin government, would continue its commitment to the peace process and the all-island economy.

Speaking in the Dublin parliament he said: “In the Republic we should reassess our views in what ways we may become more open and tolerant so that others may not be so defensive towards us, in the interests of political progress.

“The need for us to address those issues in all parts of Ireland is the best tribute we can pay to all of those who ten years ago had the courage of their convictions to sign up to the [Good Friday] Agreement.”

Still officially Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach-designate inherits a sharply deteriorating economy and a crisis in public services -- particularly the health service -- but a successful peace process.

Speaking on the tenth anniversary of its signing, Mr Cowen said work is ongoing on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

“I ask this House, and everyone involved in politics, not to make the assumption that now that the institutions have been put in place, we are seeing the full implementation of the agreement as a result.

“Too often the hard part of setting up the institutions, as difficult as that is, can hide the fact that there is much work to be done in order to implement the spirit of the agreement as well as the letter.

“In fact, the quality of its implementation is dependent upon the spirit of the agreement being embraced by all.”

The Tanaiste was replying to Sinn Féin Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain, who said it was appropriate to commend all who played their parts in helping to bring about the agreement, and who had worked for the implementation of the hope and promise therein over the period of years since.

“There is clearly, to paraphrase a common quote, a lot yet to be done in that regard.”

Mr O Caolain said he hoped that in Mr Cowen’s term as Taoiseach he would employ increased energy in seeking to ensure the full implementation of the agreement’s promise as quickly as possible.

“The all-Ireland charter of rights, the all-Ireland parliamentary forum and the consultative civic forum are the subjects of a number of promises contained within the agreement.”

Mr Cowen and the expected next leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Peter Robinson, are due to hold their first meeting in Belfast on Monday.

Mr Cowen will meet Mr Robinson on a day when the DUP parliamentary party is due to confirm the now deputy leader as leader and First Minister-designate.

The DUP will also elect a new deputy leader on Monday and the North’s current Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Industry, Nigel Dodds, is favourite for the post.

Ian Paisley, on what is seen as his “lap of honour” as First Minister and DUP leader, travelled to Washington on Monday for meetings relating to the conference.

Mr Paisley said: “I never cease to be amazed by the amount of goodwill which Northern Ireland receives in the United States and this trip has been no different. I was particularly pleased to meet the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg who confirmed that he would send a business delegation to Belfast,” he said.

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