Robinson demands new peace deal
Robinson demands new peace deal


Sinn Fein has accepted that the North’s political process is in serious trouble following a call by the DUP for the St Andrew’s Agreement to be renegotiated.

On Tuesday, the North’s First Minister, DUP leader Peter Robinson called for the 2006 peace deal to be revised, saying it had always been a short-term solution, and said the failure to agree a spending budget had brought the situation to a head.

“We have now come against an issue that doesn’t allow us to hang on with the present process at Stormont,” he wrote. “The present process cannot survive the welfare reform issue.”

He urged the British government to get involved in fresh negotiations and to include the extreme unionist parties in the talks.

He said Stormont’s ‘mandatory coalition’ of the five main parties, led by the DUP and Sinn Fein, could not continue in its present form. He described Stormont as dysfunctional and no longer fit for purpose.

“Unless we face and conquer the deficiencies in our arrangements, we will not be the guardians of a process regarded as a splendid exemplar to the world but rather we will become a cautionary tale, warning of the dangers of drift and dithering,” he wrote.

Members of the power-sharing government at Stormont have been at loggerheads over issues including dealing with the legacy of the conflict, sectarian marches and how to spend the diminishing block grant from the British exchequer.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams warned that a “negative political axis” was trying to destabilise the situation at Stormont.

He said: “As everyone knows, the political process in the North is currently in serious difficulty. A negative political axis is currently seeking to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and turn back the clock on the progress of recent years.

“We now have the ludicrous position of unionist leaders, who repeatedly walked away from talks, asking for new talks.”

He added: “Unionist political leaders may hanker after a return to majority rule in the North but that is never, ever, going to happen. The Orange State is gone forever.”

Mr Adams reserved his strongest condemnation for the current British Direct Ruler, Therese Villiers.

He said: “Rather than seek to bring them to their senses, the British Government’s interventions to date have merely encouraged unionist intransigence.”

Last weekend, the 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan foreshadowed Robinson’s comments when he said the Stormont parties had failed to deliver “a functioning assembly”.

“I regret that, while there has been great progress over the last 16 years in civic society, the quality of change in political engagement has been less than many would have wished,” he said.

“The deadlock between Sinn Fein and the DUP is all the more unfortunate because it does not reflect the vibrant economy and positive atmosphere evident on the streets of places like Belfast.”

Responding to the Minister, Mr Adams said the Dublin government also needed to “lift its game” in relation to the political process. He said the comments were inappropriate for a minister for foreign affairs who “should be conscious of his government’s responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Alliance leader David Ford warned that devolution was in real danger of collapse if the two governments don’t quickly convene new talks. Mr Ford said it was no longer good enough to “passively encourage” the DUP and Sinn Fein to work together. “The governments must now broker the agreements we need if devolution is to be saved.”

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell was scathing of Robinson’s call for talks, and pointed to their walkout from a previous round of talks in July over the parades issue.

“The first minister has much audacity in walking away from one set of talks and now calling for another set of talks,” the South Belfast MP said.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the “bad deal” negotiated by the DUP at St Andrew’s was to blame for the current crisis. He said the carve up between Sinn Fein and the DUP had become a “face off”.

“The very things Peter Robinson is complaining about are products of St Andrew’s, which introduced the blocking mechanisms that have led to this stalemate,” he said.

Another factor in the mix is the fear among the Stormont parties that their plight may be overlooked amid the turmoil in London over Scotland’s bid for independence. At previous times of crisis, high-powered negotiations have been held in grand estates in Britain and Ireland, and a return to high-profile ‘big house’ political negotiations is being seen as a likely outcome.

Sinn Fein’s Martin Mr McGuinness was scornful of Mr Robinson’s suggestion about involving the TUV and UKIP in talks. He warned the DUP also wanted representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries and “elements of the Orange Order” involved in discussions. However, he said he was open to a new process.

“Sinn Fein is for negotiations and dialogue and we have been absolutely clear that the British and Irish governments, as well as the US administration are involved,” he said.

The Deputy First Minister complained about the First Minister’s “counter-productive megaphone or media-based negotiations”, but was optimistic of a resolution.

“We have overcome enormous challenges in the past by treating each other with a degree of respect,” he said. With the support and engagement of the two governments and the US administration I’m confident we can find a resolution to our current difficulties.”

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