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14 September 2006 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Paisley says yes to Equality and democracy?

Ian Paisley says yes to equality and democracy! Could that be the headline on 25 November? I hope for everybody's sake that it is. If he does then he will contribute greatly to consigning unaccountable, undemocratic British direct rule to the dustbin of history.

There has been significant political progress since 1994 - governments, political parties, community, business leaders and indeed the IRA have all contributed. But without any worthwhile input so far from the DUP. However Ian Paisley now has a golden opportunity to assist in mapping out a new inclusive relationship for all the people of Ireland.

What exactly is being asked of the DUP that would equate to the 'heavy lifts' already taken by the other participants? The answer is straightforward; it is to say 'Yes' to power-sharing on the basis of equality and respect for others' mandates!

Sinn Féin recognises that this political concept may cause the DUP some difficulties but they should realise that you can't clear the hurdles without leaving the starting blocks! We cannot predicate decisions on the way forward on whether they are acceptable to the fundamentalist attitude of right wing unionism. The two governments should recognise that the DUP does not voluntarily do power-sharing. This fact is there for all to see in the councils in which the DUP holds over-all power or where they can, with support from Ulster Unionists or Alliance councillors exclude republicans and nationalists from council leadership posts.

The two governments will have tough decisions to make if the DUP reject a power-sharing Assembly. Comments attributed to both Peter Hain and Dermot Ahern last weekend would seem to signify that they are prepared to defend the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Only time will tell if they can hold their nerve under the inevitable tirade of abuse and threat of backlash that will come from predictable unionist sources.

While it would be preferable to have the DUP on board and local Ministers taking the political decisions that affect everyday life in the Six-Counties, it must be remembered that the relevant peace that we enjoy today was built without any positive input from the DUP. Therefore, it is the DUP and the DUP alone who have to decide. Are they going to be partners in constructing a new future where electoral mandates are respected in a society built on the principles of equality and democracy?

If the DUP answer is positive then we can all pool our energy and experience and get on with re-building the Economy and bringing forward the process of Reconciliation. If the answer is no then the responsibility transfers to the two governments to ensure that there is no further delay in delivering on all other aspects of the GFA despite the dissolution of the Assembly. Equality and Democracy are the two weapons most feared by the opponents of change and it is in delivering Equality and Democracy that they will be defeated.

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