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3 July 2003 Edition

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Denial of democracy a "fundamental mistake"

BY FERN LANE


Tony Blair's decision to cancel elections in the Six Counties attracted stinging criticism last week at a meeting in London addressed by Alex Maskey.

The denial of democracy was a "fundamental mistake", Maskey told a joint meeting of the Young Fabian Society and the Labour Party Irish Society at Westminster. Instead of facing problems head on, the British government is "feeding the No camp. It has run the peace process into the ground and nothing is happening break the logjam".

Labour MP John McDonnell told the meeting that "the options are that we continue on with what we call direct rule but which in reality is stasis in the political process, where nothing is happening to engender confidence in the future, and we have the dangers associated with that. The second option is to look to a new initiative, which has to be based on the Good Friday Agreement or negotiations will be that much more difficult. The third option is to say, yes, let's let the democratic process work and reinstate the elections. My own view is that you can't leap in and out of democracy. Let the people speak, let the political process work."

Lembit Opek, the Liberal-Democrat spokesperson on the Six Counties, commended Sinn Féin on the "exceptional performance" of its ministers in the Assembly and added that, as Mayor, Alex Maskey had done a "fantastic job". The decision to cancel elections, he said was the "the biggest single error of judgement by the current government during the peace process".

Also addressing the meeting was Ulster Unionist peer, Lord Laird, who told the meeting that the peace process had enabled him to embark on a personal journey away from his old sectarian notions. "I always thought that the Irish language and Irish culture was a threat to me," he said. "I thought it was in some way 'getting' at me. I have gone on a journey where now I am comfortable with it."
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