Party leaders to meet Obama
Party leaders to meet Obama

The North’s political leaders have earned a high-profile trip to the White House for St Patrick’s Day following the successful negotiation of a deal on sectarian parades and local policing powers.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet US President Barack Obama to discuss progress in the North’s political process.

Speaking last night, the US president Barack Obama said he is looking forward to meeting political leaders behind the agreement.

Mr Obama said the power-sharing deal was an important step on the path to greater peace and prosperity.

“The president appreciates the personal contributions and steadfast support of the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in support of the historic agreement achieved by Northern Ireland leaders today, which is an important step on the pathway to greater peace and prosperity for all communities on the island,” a White House statement said.

The 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the Six-County First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet Mr Obama at the White House on St Patrick’s Day to discuss progress.

“The president looks forward to commemorating his second St Patrick’s Day in the White House with the Taoiseach, a celebration which serves as a reminder of the shared history and close kinship between our two countries,” the statement added.

Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald announced this morning that the party’s Officer Board has endorsed the Agreement announced yesterday at Hillsborough Castle.

“The Sinn Fein Officer Board met following the Agreement announced at Hillsborough Castle. During its deliberations the Officer Board discussed and endorsed the Agreement reached and commended the Sinn Fein negotiations team.

“This is as an important and significant step forward for the political process and for the future of this country.

“The long overdue transfer of policing and justice powers from Britain to the North of Ireland is a major political achievement that will be welcomed by people throughout the island of Ireland.

“Sinn Fein wishes to see fully functioning, effective political institutions that operate on the basis of equality and which deliver for all of the people. The Agreement reached at Hillsborough is a very important step in that direction.”

On Monday efforts will begin to name the North’s first minister for justice since the previous devolved Six-County administration was scrapped in 1972.

David Ford of the moderate unionist Alliance Party is widely tipped to be the successful candidate.

On Tuesday Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness will set up a controversial working group, which will have just three weeks to agree the best method of achieving cross-community support for a “new and improved” system of dealing with parading. Failure to do so could undermine the agreed plan to transfer policing and justice powers from London to Belfast by April 12th.


“This might just be the day when the political process in the North came of age,” Mr McGuinness said yesterday.

He said that compared the deal announced yesterday at Hillsborough Castle to the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement, “this could turn out to be maybe the most important agreement of all”.

Mr Robinson said the deal was a “good day for Northern Ireland”. He added: “No future generation would forgive us for squandering the peace that has been so long fought for. Today’s agreement is a sure sign that there will be no going back to the past.”

Republican Sinn Fein strongly condemned the deal.

“With the fervour of political converts the Provos cannot wait to administer British Police and British Justice in Ireland,” said party President Des Dalton.

“As they don the uniforms and carry the weapons of their one-time enemy, it can be truly said that the ‘poachers have become gamekeepers.’

“When the new ‘Broy Harriers’ take to the streets under Provo direction history can be accurately said to be repeating itself.

“As British rule reaches into the grass-roots in the Six Counties, British Imperialism in its updated mode seeks to make itself more acceptable. However history teaches us that it will once more be resisted.”

eirigi chairperson Brian Leeson warned that vulnerable nationalist communities could not be sacrificed to secure the transfer of “limited” justice and policing powers to the Six-Coounty administration at Stormont.

Yesterday’s announcement was “heavy on spin” but “very light on detail”, he said, but it was clear that the DUP and Sinn Fein had agreed a “trade-off” on the issues of policing and sectarian marches.

“It is inconceivable that the DUP would have agreed to that trade-off without securing concessions on sectarian marches through nationalist areas,” he said.

“Sinn Fein, and to a lesser extent the SDLP, must now be asked what price have they have paid to the DUP and the British government. Have they agreed to sacrifice the people of the Garvaghy Road on the altar of British policing and justice?”

On the issue of the limited transfer of powers to Stormont, Leeson continued: “I have no doubt that Sinn Fein and the SDLP will present today’s deal as some form of victory for nationalists and republicans. But instead of victory, today’s deal is nothing but the latest in a long line of defeats at the negotiation table.

“The most basic study of Irish history demonstrates that British governments have always been willing to allow loyal subjects to administer British rule in Ireland - once that loyalty has been established beyond question.

“Regardless of the so-called transfer of policing and justice, the PSNI will remain a British paramilitary force, administering British laws in support of the British legal and judicial system.”

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams admitted the agreement was not the end of all difficulties but was “a staging post” along the path to greater equality.

“This isn’t all going to be all hunky-dory. This is very much a staging post, there are lots of other issues that need to be dealt with such as citizens’ rights and equality,” he told Irish television.

Mr Adams said the progress of talks with the DUP depended on who was sitting across the table from Sinn Fein.

“Some of these guys are dinosaurs,” he said. “But there are others who are more pragmatic and who live in the real world. When we got sitting with them that’s when we made progress.”

He added: “When we got the governments out of it to a certain degree, more specifically the British and Northern Ireland Office, we were able to neutralise distractions and diversions that they were putting into negotiations in what they thought were the best interests of unionism.

“The governments were to fault in many ways on this agreement and the British government particularly. The Irish Government was distracted by certain issues, too.”

He said this was not to take away from the work of the Taoiseach and the 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin.

The agreement was attacked by Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister. “Roll-over unionism is still delivering - delivering the Sinn Fein agenda,” he said.

In a statement the Orange Order offered a qualified welcome. “Our initial reaction is that it is a positive step forward and we are pleased that people have been focusing on the issue of parading.”

Church leaders also welcomed the agreement and called for a new focus on normalisation and economic recovery.

President Mary McAleese hailed the deal as “a decisive move ahead”.

“This is a deeply significant day in the evolution of the peace process. Indeed, history may well record this agreement as the moment when the peace process transitioned from potential to reality,” Mrs McAleese said in a statement.

“After many years of negotiation and inching forward at an often cautious and painstaking pace, a decisive move ahead has been made and, critically, it has been made by the parties themselves.”

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