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23 February 2006 Edition

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Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2006 PEACE PROCESS

Irish Government slammed for "rolling over"

Engagement with unionists needed on parades issue

Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis 2006 opened on Friday evening with debate on the Peace Process included motions on a range of issues from demilitarisation to ongoing attempts to resolve difficulties surrounding Orange marches.

The party's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness spoke of the Good Friday Agreement as a recognition of the failure of the Six-County state. It was time for the British and the unionists to commit to fully democratic means, to end their spy rings and to take their troops out of Ireland.

Both Governments needed to let unionism know that they could not impede progress and that if necessary be prepared to conclude a deal "over the heads of the DUP". Concluding on an optimistic note, McGuinness told delegates that: " We are going to bring about the unification of our country."

Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty attacked the Irish Government for "rolling over" on key aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. Gildernew also called on Dublin to immediately release all qualifying prisoners. Pat Doherty labelled the main opposition parties in Leinster House as just as weak as the current coalition; highlighting in particular Pat Rabbitte's refusal to support northern representation.

Joanne Corcoran, Dublin Mid West made the point in relation to the Governments, that: " If the securocrats are not faced down on collusion how can they be faced down on their undermining of the Peace Process?"

Caoimghín O Caoláin TD echoed that point and also accused Ahern of caving into the PDs on northern representation.

There were also calls for, as Noel Campbell, Mayo put it, 'taking stock' of where we have come since 1998 and where we are going. In support of the same motion, Justin Moran referred to: "Mounting impatience for the governments to fulfil their obligations" and if necessary for republicans to have a 'Plan B'.

Declan Kearney accepted that: "Any strategy must be subject to review," but that republican strategy ought not be confused with the Good Friday Agreement. "Our objectives extend far beyond the Good Friday Agreement." He was also confident that republicans were winning the political struggle,

Other speakers, including former Belfast Mayor Alex Maskey MLA, spoke of the need for the equivalence of symbols in the Six Counties. Dealing with another aspect of this issue, Seán Murray from Belfast dealt with ongoing efforts to reach an agreement with the loyal orders on contentious parades. There needs to be engagement and dialogue between communities and the orders. This was also a means to identify progressive individuals there who were willing to address the concerns of those who lived in areas where controversial parades took place.

Martina Anderson referred to the origins of the divisions within the population as a consequence of the effects of British policy. It was necessary therefore to promote a vision of a "shared Ireland without sectarianism" and for republicans to reach out to those within the unionist community so that they too could play their part in shaping that new Ireland.

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