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4 November 2004 Edition

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Republicans were up for a deal, the DUP was not

BY LAURA FRIEL

Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley are pictured leaving Government Buildings in Dublin

Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley are pictured leaving Government Buildings in Dublin

Only two things came out clearly from the Leeds Castle talks. Republicans were up for a deal and the DUP was not. Writing in this week's An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness warned against media spin that suggested that a deal was imminent and that the DUP had accepted the core principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The fact of the matter is that the DUP has not moved one iota from its anti-Agreement stance. It is as intent as ever on wrecking the Agreement and the longer the two governments indulge its intransigence, the more the DUP will believe it is succeeding," says McGuinness.

Faced with this reality McGuinness argues that its up to the two governments, "as custodians and guarantors of equal status", to implement all aspects of the Agreement that are not dependent on the participation of all parties.

McGuinness points out that since it is the case that in the terms of the Agreement neither government can force the DUP to participate, "neither should any one party by its refusal to participate be allowed to hold the whole political process to ransom".

The present situation of unilateral British direct rule is unacceptable and in itself a violation of the Agreement, says McGuinness. In the terms of the Agreement, if locally elected representatives are unable to reach accommodation, then it falls to the two governments to enter into a power sharing arrangement until the parties can resolve their differences.

"We cannot allow the negative forces of anti-Agreement parties and organisations to frustrate its potential," says McGuinness. Calling for a pro-active commitment to the Agreement by the two governments, McGuinness says it is essential to confront and defeat the enemies of progress.

"Given that, with the exception of the DUP, all other political parties here accept the unstoppability of the process of change," says McGuinness. "Is it not time that the two governments demonstrate the beneficial effects of power sharing, resources, facilities and expertise on an all-Ireland basis?"

Ballymena bigotry

McGuinness' comments come in a week in which the DUP was further demonstrating its intransigence when it comes to power sharing with northern nationalists in whatever guise. A move to introduce a power sharing mechanism within Ballymena Borough Council was rejected by the DUP.

DUP councillors voted down a motion calling for the introduction of the D'Hondt system as a means of sharing council positions and making way for the possibility for a nationalist mayor. Councils with nationalist majorities in the north have adopted D'Hondt as an equally measure to enable unionist minorities to share power and positions.

But this commitment to equality and mutual respect has not always been reciprocated in councils with unionist majorities. In Lisburn Borough Council, for example, the Ulster Unionists and DUP have used their majority status to deny elected representatives from the nationalist communities of Poleglass and Twinbrook access to council positions.

In Ballymena, the DUP not only blocked D'Hondt but declared their rejection of power sharing as a principle. In an amendment, the DUP asserted that majority rule (their rule) was best for the area and "power sharing is not the best form of government as it provides less effective weaker and demonstrably less durable administrations".

Curiously, the DUP amendment acknowledged that the "operation of a power sharing system is justified only by national emergencies and is deemed democratically acceptable only for the purpose of binding together divided communities or coming out of conflict".

For a moment, you might be tempted to think that the DUP is, at last, occupying the same political planet as the rest of us but sadly this is not the case. The DUP admits in such circumstances power sharing might be a good idea but the DUP was "delighted" to announce that "Ballymena is not a divided community in conflict".

Murphy meets UDA

In Belfast, the British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, has met with unionist paramilitaries. Three of the UDA's so called six brigadiers, including Andre Shoukri from North Belfast, Jackie McDonald from South Belfast and Billy McFarlane from Derry, formed part of the Ulster Political Research Group delegation.

Unionist councillors Frank McCoubrey, Frankie Gallagher and Tommy Kirkham accompanied the paramilitaries. The meeting went ahead despite the fact that the UDA has been officially deemed in breach of its ceasefire and has carried out numerous sustained attacks against vulnerable nationalist communities and dozens of killings, both sectarian and feud-related.

The three-hour meeting was described by Paul Murphy as "very useful and constructive". Murphy said the UPRG had discussed a wide range of issues of loyalist concern and he in turn had made it clear that violence had to stop and the issue of unionist paramilitary decommissioning must be dealt with.

Commenting on the meeting, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey welcomed dialogue but said that it had to be made clear to the UDA that its campaign against Catholics and ethnic minorities had to end, along with its drug dealing operations in working class unionist areas.

"Many people are getting tired of the constant moaning in advance of these discussions about the supposed raw deal loyalist communities have got since the cessations. Deprivation and poverty exists but not just in the loyalist community. The reality is that these issues can only be tackled on the basis of need, not perception," said Maskey.

Working-class loyalist areas had been let down, said Maskey, but not by republicans and nationalists. They had been let down by "the woeful political leadership which has been provided by unionist parties over the years.

"They have also been let down by the UDA, who demand regeneration while at the same time continuing to peddle drugs within those very same communities. The very obvious social and economic problems which exist within some loyalist communities will not end until these communities are given real political leadership," said Maskey.

Ahern's words

In Dublin, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was expressing concern at continued DUP stalling but he was couching his words in the usual politicking. Ahern said he hoped no party involved in the Peace Process was delaying a settlement for tactical reasons.

"I hope it is not the intention of any party to play this along in tactical terms or to play it out to the other side of the British [general] election or northern local elections due next May," said Ahern.

Earlier in the week, during a visit to Rome, Ahern spelt out the two governments' commitment to the Agreement and stressed their "co-partnership" in the process.

Sinn Féin welcomed Ahern's comments but in the eyes of most northern nationalists, the Dublin Government has yet to champion the Agreement in any vigorous way. The language employed by Ahern is often so 'diplomatic' as to be rendered almost meaningless.

Suggesting that after Leeds, prospects for the settlement had "slowed down", Ahern went on to qualify this modest observation. "That is my view, which is not one shared by everybody, but I will always give it as I see it on these questions," said Ahern. Of course, tentative acknowledgement of a problem is a far cry from actually saying what the government might actually do about it.

If Bertie Ahern only knew the frustration and resentment his waffle-waffle statements cause within the northern nationalist community, he might be prepared to be more robust.

Adams in US

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is travelling to the US this week, where he will be meeting with senior Congress members, Senators and Governors and with Irish American organisations to update them on the ongoing efforts to end the impasse in the Peace Process. He will also attend a number of functions organised by Friends of Sinn Féin.

Speaking prior to the visit, a spokesperson for the party said: "The US continues to be a vital component in securing the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."

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