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2 October 2003 Edition

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Sinn Féin brings election demand to Labour Party conference

BY FERN LANE

Tony Blair wooed the Labour Party faithful in Bournemouth this week with his mutually incompatible promise of both a wide ranging listening and consultation process and a blank refusal to change any actual policy, especially those the people most want him to change; namely on Iraq, foundation hospitals and student fees. Meanwhile, senior members of Sinn Féin have been engaging the party membership on issues that affect the day-to-day lives of those living in the Six Counties, not least the denial of their democratic right to choose their own political representatives.

On Monday, Gerry Kelly addressed the Agreed Ireland Forum at the Conference on the profound difficulties caused first by the repeated suspension of the institutions, and then by the cancellation of the Assembly elections. He told his audience that anti-Good Friday Agreement unionists and British securocrats were attempting to "suck the momentum out of the Agreement".

The Good Friday Agreement had been "full of promise" he said. "It was about gaining rights and entitlements that had been denied to a section of our people since Partition and beyond. It was about effecting political and constitutional change. It was to be a new beginning to the political reality in the North of Ireland.

"Through four suspensions of the political institutions and the eventual cancellation of the elections to renew the mandates to those institutions, Tony Blair has undermined that embryonic democratic process.

"The Agreement has to be implemented in full and in order to do that there needs to be an election. Tony Blair is the one that must call a date for the election and he must do it now. Rather than a process of implementation what we have is a process of undermining the Agreement by anti-Agreement unionists and faceless securocrats attempting to suck the momentum out of the Agreement."

Also speaking from the conference, Sinn Féin West Belfast representative, Bairbre de Brún reitereated Gerry Kelly's message and warned elements within the British establishment and unionism against sabotaging the attempts to secure progress.

"There is a great deal of speculation about the way forward at the moment," she said, "particularly from certain quarters. But there is no quick fix. We need to deal with the real difficulties. The focus on republicans and the expectation of something 'big' is not helpful.

"We all know what has to happen to get the process back on track - Assembly elections. We need to deal with the transfer of powers on policing and justice, demilitarisation, equality and human rights and the sustainability of the political institutions. There is a collective responsibility on us all to move each of these issues forward. We need an election to restore public confidence and to kick-start the process. We need to have elections without precondition - it is a matter of political principle.

"And, of course the issue of arms needs to be dealt with. There is a mechanism for dealing with decommissioning agreed under the Good Friday Agreement - the IICD. This was agreed to enable the entire process to move forward.

"The unilateral setting of deadlines, setting the bar too high, and focusing on only one element is the wrong way to go about this. Sinn Féin are involved in serious negotiations to get the process back on track. I would warn elements within the British establishment and within unionism, who are clearly intent on sabotaging these attempts to secure progress, that they are putting all the progress of the last ten years at risk."

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