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19 August 2004 Edition

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Sinn Féin prepares for September talks

Sinn Féin Assembly members and Assembly support staff met on Tuesday in Stormont to continue preparations for the political negotiations scheduled to begin in September. Speaking before the meeting, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said the party's objective going into the negotiations is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions.

"However," he added, "republicans are not convinced of the commitment to progress by the two governments, especially the British Government, and the DUP. Indeed, given the British Government's track record of failing to implement the Agreement, its breach of commitments made last October, its creation of the IMC and much more, there are many who believe it is failing the peace process.

"The British Government faces a major challenge in the immediate time ahead. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction as successive British governments did for decades.

"Elements within the British system, the securocrats and the faceless pro-union bureaucrats of the NIO, are doing their best to subvert progress and to encourage the backward slide.

"If republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British Government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily.

"In our discussions over the summer with the two governments we have focused on the key problem issues which we believe all of the participants have a contribution to resolve. These include:

the need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions;

the issues of policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of powers to the Executive and Assembly within a specific timeframe;

the issue of armed groups and of arms; and

the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.

"The British and Irish Governments also have responsibility for other matters.

"However, the fact is that the DUP is refusing to talk directly to Sinn Féin and has set so many preconditions for progress is a challenge for that party but also for the two governments if the institutions are to be restored.

"We also raised with the governments, but particularly the British Government, the Pat Finucane case and its reneging on its commitment to hold an inquiry, as well as the wider issue of collusion.

"Sinn Féin's goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British Government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge."

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