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17 November 2005 Edition

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Campaign to end direct rule steps up

BY LAURA FRIEL

Launching a discussion document: Counting the Cost of Direct Rule and Putting it Right,

Launching a discussion document: Counting the Cost of Direct Rule and Putting it Right,

Sinn Féin in government - Restoring political institutions the priority

"Direct Rule is a failure," was Sinn Féin's message delivered at a Stormont press conference this week. "It fails all the people of the North at every conceivable social, political and economic level.

"People are paid less, costs are higher and local political representatives do not take the decisions that can affect any of this. British Ministers are in charge," said Party President Adams.

Launching a discussion document: Counting the Cost of Direct Rule and Putting it Right, Sinn Féin argued that the priorities pursued by Direct Rule Ministers were "driven not by a commitment to serve the people of the North but by a Whitehall imperative to slash public spending".

The document points out that British Ministers have refused to finance badly-needed services, programmes and reforms that were identified by the Executive and Assembly as essential to making social and economic progress. "It is high time to count the cost of Direct Rule and set about putting it right," the document says.

"Our aim is very simple," said Adams, "to restore the political institutions and to put decisions and the decision making process back into the hands of the people in the North and their locally elected political representatives".

He went on: "It has been over three years since the British Government, illegally and outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, suspended the Assembly and the Executive. In that time, British Direct Rule has undermined the Programme for Government and the priorities agreed by members of the last Executive and Assembly.

"Direct Rule has made it impossible to manage the economy in the interests of all and has impeded the delivery of essential services to all on an equal basis. It has stalled the process of reform in healthcare and education and inflicted damage on the agricultural sector.

"In some cases this is attributable to Ministerial disengagement or incompetence. For example Direct Rule Ministers recently overlooked the fact that we were about to lose EU Peace Funding worth £140 million. But this only compounds the core problem, a problem that is structurally inherent to Direct Rule, unaccountability.

"British Ministers do not represent the interests of the people here. Their political future does not depend on delivering to the northern electorate. Their seats are secure in Britain and their future lies with the British Cabinet. Direct Rule Ministers inevitably represent the interests of the British exchequer."

The problem with Direct Rule Ministers is that they are interim appointees with no mandate and no accountability to people in the north. Their ability to deliver has no impact on their political futures and their decisions are circumscribed by imperatives that have nothing to do with the people of the North.

The document notes that Direct Rule Ministers have a documented history of flatly refusing to listen to either the genuine concerns raised by democratically-mandated politicians or the local expertise of community and voluntary organisations.

"The primary responsibility to change this rests with the political parties," said Adams, "Sinn Féin is also calling on civic society and the business sector to work in partnership with the political parties to achieve change".

"In the coming months Sinn Féin will be initiating a process of engagement with civic society, trade unions, business leaders, NGOs and the community and voluntary sector. We are stepping up our campaign to get the political institutions back up and running and end British Direct Rule.

"British suspension of the institutions has denied us all the opportunity to work together to reverse three decades of Direct Rule and unionist misrule. We urgently need to get the institutions back up and running. Any further delay will only compound the problems. Direct Rule has the potential to lock any future Assembly into imposed policy decisions for years to come.

"Unionists have walked away from every initiative aimed at restoring the institutions. Their refusal to engage and agree a way forward has penalised everyone, not just republicans," said Adams, "the question is-how long will the DUP allow Direct Rule Ministers to take decisions to the detriment of people in the North"?

"The political institutions must be restored. The British Government must deliver a peace dividend that can be invested by locally accountable government for the common good. And we must all work together collectively to plan our new society. Sinn Féin is up to the challenge," said Adams.

"This initiative isn't just about counting the cost but also about putting it right."

Questioned about recent comments by Bertie Ahern, the Sinn Féin President cautioned the media in relation to electioneering rhetoric by the leader of Fianna Fáil. "The question is not whether Fianna Fáil will go into coalition with Sinn Féin but whether Sinn Féin will go into coalition with Fianna Fáil," said Adams.

"Make no mistake about it Sinn Féin is in the business of going into government, North and South. But any notion of coalition would have to be underpinned by the adoption of a political platform to promote Sinn Féin's project of equality and unity," said Adams.

"There is currently the largest budget surplus in the history of the southern state and yet public services remain decrepit. The wealth of the nation should be used to provide proper public services and not to line the pockets of party political cronies or flow towards big business."

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