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19 January 2006 Edition

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SDLP accused of settling for less

Conor Murphy

Conor Murphy

Power sharing - SDLP must come clean on discussions with unionists

The SDLP must come clean on their discussions with unionists about diluting the power sharing arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy told a Stormont press conference this week. This is not the first time the SDLP's has acted outside the collective interests of northern nationalists to concede ground to unionist intransigence.

"The only basis for moving forward is the route mapped out in the Good Friday Agreement and the two governments need to make that clear to the parties. Sinn Féin will not countenance a move away from the fundamental principles which underpin the Agreement," said Murphy.

Responding to information suggesting that the SDLP had engaged in discussions with the Ulster Unionist Party on the basis of arrangements outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he described the situation as "disappointing".

"Nine months ago the SDLP put forward proposals which involved scrapping the power sharing executive and replacing it with administrators, appointed by the governments, to run the various departments. This was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now," said the Sinn Féin MP.

"Power sharing and inclusion are at the core of the Agreement. This is what was agreed by the parties and endorsed in referendum by the vast majority of the people North and South," said Murphy.

Unionist political leaders have no longer any excuse for refusing to re-engage in the institutions on the basis of the Agreement.

Accusing the SDLP of being prepared to settle for less, Murphy described it as ironic that just as the governments were about to convene a new round of political negotiations involving all the parties the SDLP appear to be providing anti-Agreement unionism with a cop-out clause.

"Anti-Agreement unionism will be well pleased to hear that the SDLP are prepared to settle for less than the full restoration of the political institutions. The SDLP proposals provide unionists with a basis for further procrastination and with some encouragement they may achieve a major dilution of the Agreement," said Murphy.

"Settling for less than power sharing will reopen the prospect of a return to unionist rule in the North. The SDLP must clarify where they stand with regards to power sharing. Any dilution of the power sharing arrangements which underpin the Agreement will undermine efforts to bring about full restoration of the political institutions," said Murphy.

Meanwhile, the DUP appears to be attempting to undermine any meaningful reinstatement of the institutions by refusing to share power on the basis of equality and respect. Any exclusion of the largest nationalist party in the North, Sinn Féin, will necessarily reinstate unionist domination. No wonder unionists are hoping the SDLP will endorse this strategy.

The DUP has already declared that it will not share power with Sinn Féin "for the foreseeable future". It was too early for unionism to trust or talk to Sinn Féin said Ian Paisley. Instead the DUP is to present a 16-page document to the British Prime Minister designed to exclude Sinn Féin.

Paisley was unwilling to commit his party to power sharing on the basis of equality and respect, said Sinn Féin's West Tyrone MP, Pat Doherty. The two governments needed to make it clear that the only way forward was the roadmap set out in the Good Friday Agreement. Paisley was challenging the democratic standing of the agreement and the two government's commitment to it, said Doherty.

"Sinn Féin will not countenance a move away from the fundamental principles that underpin the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP cannot be allowed to block forward movement towards the re-establishment of the political institutions. Republicans have delivered on every commitment given. It is now time for others to do likewise," said Doherty.

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