US envoy in crisis talks
US envoy in crisis talks

The US government’s special envoy to the north of Ireland met northern political leaders this week in a bid to avert the collapse of the Stormont administration.

Paula Dobriansky held talks with Sinn Féin in Belfast and with the DUP in London following a stinging personal attack on Sinn Féin Preisdent by DUP leader Peter Robinson last weekend.

Recent exchanges between the two parties have marked the lowest point in their relationship since the historic St Andrew’s Agreement of 2006, which led to the DUP and Sinn Féin agreeing to share power in a Belfast-based Executive for the first time.

However, the failure to implement other key aspects of that Agreement -- particularly the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast, the Irish Language Act and education reform -- has led to the cancellation of Executive meetings since June.

Ms Dobriansky also met members of the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and other political figures.

Peter Robinson was also due to have discussions with 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen in Dublin.

At the weekend, Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey warned that the Stormont executive might not meet before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s deputy first minister has said there is no point in having an executive meeting if it is a “charade”. Martin McGuinness warned the DUP was unable to come to terms with the partnership government envisaged throughout the peace process.


And in a speech to party activists in Belfast on Monday, Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing Alex Maskey said his party was again required to “force the pace” on policing and community safety.

“It was Sinn Féin who introduced the policing issue into the political negotiations,” he said.

“It was Sinn Féin who kept the pressure on the British government to deliver on Patten after Peter Mandelson produced his flawed legislation.

“And once again we find ourselves in the lead in ensuring that the British government deliver on their obligations arising from St. Andrews to transfer policing and justice powers away from London and into hands of locally elected politicians.

Mr Maskey said it was “ironic” that both before and after the negotiations at St. Andrews, the DUP “put the policing issue up in lights”.

“They attempted to make republican engagement with the new policing structures a precondition to political movement,” he said.

“At the time many believed that the DUP interest was not in policing but in attempting to buy time and scupper efforts to force them into a power-sharing arrangement as their room for political manoeuvre lessened.

“Their behaviour in recent months appears to lend weight to that theory. We now have the situation where republicans secured enough in political negotiations and through legislation to allow us to enter into a critical engagement with policing structures.

“We brought the debate on policing into our community. We were up front with what such an engagement would mean for our party and community. We brought people with us and we delivered.

“Yet the DUP continue to say ‘No’. ‘No’ to policing and justice, ‘No’ to equality and ‘No’ to partnership. In most peoples’ eyes they stand exposed and the irony of their position is not lost on anyone.

“The DUP have managed to manoeuvre themselves into a position where they are in a power sharing government - despite being opposed to power sharing - while at the same time they are blocking building community support for the PSNI through their opposition to transfer when they had previously claimed that this was a prerequisite for progress. It really is long past the time they sorted themselves out.

“We have the bizarre situation where on an almost daily basis DUP MLAs are on the media calling for action on issues of community safety, or repeat offenders bail or attacks on the elderly.

“They demand a reduction in crime rates and an increase in detection. Yet those very same politicians are the people who are refusing to take these powers into their own hands and begin dealing with these issues.

“It seems they want to have it both ways. Calling for action, blaming the British government for being unresponsive to local needs while at the same time running away from taking these decisions themselves.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of people took part in a colourful rally in west Belfast on Saturday to demand official status for the Irish language, one of the elements in dispute. Irish speakers, including children learning the language, were drawn to the rally from Strabane, Newry, Armagh, Ballycastle, Castlewellan, Maghera and Derry.

Mr Maskey said the DUP resistance to change was a “direct challenge” to the two governments.

“The St. Andrews Agreement is very clear. The DUP are already in default. Sinn Féin will continue to defend the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements and we will continue to ensure that the rights and entitlements of citizens be they on policing and justice or anything else are not subject to the lowest common denominator within political unionism.”

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