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23 February 2006 Edition

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Political exclusion: Republicans also have a veto

Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Peter Hain & Ian Paisley

Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Peter Hain & Ian Paisley

No going to the back of the bus

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described an attempt to exclude Sinn Féin from round-table political talks as stupid and naïve. "I was actually shocked at the stupidity and naivety of the proposition which was being put to us. Here we are, eleven years beyond John Major, and here's the government thinking that we would go to the back of the bus or go through a process of excluding ourselves," said Adams.

He was speaking after the British and Irish Governments attempted to organise round-table talks in Stormont to which Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party, would be excluded. The move followed the DUP's continuing refusal to attend talks involving Sinn Féin.

Adams said there was no justification for excluding Sinn Féin from talks and accused the two governments of telling lies. He said Ahern and Blair had to take a personal interest in driving the process forward.

"They have to take responsibility for this. This is a project which both governments are obliged to drive forward.

"There is a lot of focus on the veto that unionists have. Well we have a veto as well and we use it in a positive way. Unionists may seek to use it in a negative way. We will ensure that, within a very short timeframe, either this goes forward or it becomes clear to everyone that the current untenable situation has to come to an end," said Adams.

Scheduling a session of talks without Sinn Féin, at the behest of the DUP, was agreed by the two governments with the acquiescence of the SDLP. Sinn Féin immediately rejected the process and it later emerged the UUP was not on board, offering only to send a note-taker.

SDLP role attacked

Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP said it was clear the SDLP had moved onto the DUP agenda of exclusion by agreeing to arrangements much less than those demanded by the Good Friday Agreement. "The SDLP now have serious questions to answer. It was the SDLP who complained bitterly that they were excluded by the two governments from playing a full role in the talks of late 2004 yet have now aligned themselves with Ian Paisley and the DUP in trying to exclude nationalist and republican opinion from these discussions," said Doherty.

"It is clear that the SDLP have now departed fundamentally from the Good Friday Agreement and the principles which underpin it. In 2004 the SDLP proposed replacing elected politicians with British appointed commissioners.

"Earlier this year Dominic Bradley indicated that the SDLP were considering options short of the Good Friday Agreement institutions. They have now clearly demonstrated by their actions that for reasons of political expediency they are prepared to abandon the Agreement and the principles which underpin it," he said.

DUP leader Ian Paisley blamed the unwillingness of the UUP to enter talks without Sinn Féin for the talks collapse and praised the SDLP and Alliance, with whom the DUP met separately on a bilateral basis.

British Secretary of State Peter Hain said parties had to reach agreement by 8 March. Any legislative changes in relation to the Stormont Executive and Assembly has to be agreed before the enactment of the new Northern Ireland Bill scheduled in the British Parliament this spring, he said.

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