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11 February 2010 Edition

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Towards equality

Reaction to historic Hillsborough Agreement


BY LAURA FRIEL

THE Hillsborough Agreement is not the end of all difficulties but a significant staging post along the path towards equality. So said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking just before the British Prime Minister and Irish Taoiseach arrived at Hillsborough Castle to announce that after over 100 hours of around-the-clock negotiations an agreement had finally been brokered.
At Hillsborough the two premiers were joined by Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Joint First Minister Martin McGuinness. It had been a difficult two weeks with no guarantee of a positive outcome but with agreement reached, not only between Sinn Féin and the DUP but also within the DUP Assembly team, the atmosphere was more relaxed.
Peter Robinson even joked about fielding a winning team, if negotiations were ever adopted as an Olympic sport. But if the atmosphere had changed, it hadn’t changed utterly. Prompted by a journalist to shake the Deputy First Minister by the hand in public, the First Minister declined. He had accepted a handshake in private at a moment of great personal turmoil but he wasn’t in the business of political stunts, said Robinson.
Martin McGuinness said Sinn Féin and the DUP were “determined to face the future and to face into that future together”. Political differences did not mean the two parties were “incapable of respecting one another or treating each other as equals”. The two parties would be proceeding on the basis of partnership, respect, fairness and equality, said McGuinness.
Reaching agreement hadn’t been easy, Robinson told the waiting media, but “no future generation would forgive us for squandering the peace that has been so long fought for. I don’t pretend this agreement has been easy to reach. It has been fought on all sides but it will be all the more secure for the time invested in it.
“There are some who will play politics with this agreement. That is perhaps understandable but the real focus in the months to come must be on building an administration at Stormont that our whole community can identify with and support,” said Robinson.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the agreement reached by Sinn Féin and the DUP was an essential step for peace, stability and security in the north. It was the “basis for the future stability and success of the institutions which we have worked so hard to create,” said the Irish Premier.
“The completion of devolution of policing and justice in a matter of weeks is an essential step for peace, stability and security. It consolidates the operation of devolved government and closes the circle in the transformation of policing structures,” said Cowen.
The agreement laid the foundations for a new future, said the Taoiseach. “That better future must be built on mutual respect for people of different traditions, equality and tolerance and respect for each other’s political aspirations and cultural expressions and inheritance,” said Cowen.
The British PM said the agreement signalled a “new spirit of co-operation and mutual respect”.
“The politics of change and dialogue has irrevocably succeeded,” said Brown. Describing “the moment and the agreement” as belonging to the people, “all the people”, Brown said this was the “last chapter of a long and troubled story and the beginnings of a new chapter after decades of violence, years of talks and weeks of stalemate”.
The two largest parties had thrashed out a deal and both of their Assembly teams had backed the agreement, but for Peter Robinson at least the question remained, could he succeed in selling the deal to the wider unionist community? Writing in the Belfast Newsletter, the DUP leader described the deal as fair and urged “all unionists to consider it fully and not to fall for the hysterical raving of some unionists”.
Robinson didn’t specify exactly which unionists he had in mind but Jim Allister and his maverick Traditional Unionist Voice did not miss his cue. The DUP had promised to keep policing and justice beyond the “meddling reach of Sinn Féin/IRA”; now all justice legislation will be “subject to the toxic Sinn Féin veto”, raged Allister. Policing and Justice had been “surrendered to the terrorist-inclusive Executive,” he said.
Meanwhile the UUP, once the powerbrokers of the old sectarian one-party regime, refused to attend the Hillsborough announcement of a deal. Their judgement would be “reserved” announced UUP leader Reg Empey. The UUP was entitled to take time in considering the terms of the agreement; the DUP had not done enough to bring the UUP into the negotiations, said Empey.
As for the nomination of a Justice Minister, both the UUP and SDLP were more concerned with playing politics than securing progress. UUP party whip Fred Cobain said his party would not be supporting the nomination of Alliance leader David Ford.
Newly elected SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie announced the party would be nominating a member of their own party as Justice Minister.
To back arrangements hammered out between Sinn Féin and the DUP during the negotiations would be “anti democratic”. It was clear from her first public remarks as SDLP leader that Margaret Ritchie views Sinn Féin as the SDLP’s main opponents, as opposed to simply electoral rivals.
“Many people will be disappointed that Margaret Ritchie didn’t see the British government or indeed the unionist parties in this light,” said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. Adams dismissed SDLP attacks on Sinn Féin post the Hillsborough Agreement as “entirely self-centred, party political and opportunistic”.
“The fact is that Sinn Féin has made temporary arrangements to ensure that the legislative Assembly can legislate on policing and justice issues. As part of this we have set aside Sinn Féin’s rightful claim to the Justice Ministry in return for the DUP doing the same,” said Adams.
“The SDLP are now saying that they want d’Hondt to be run. The fact is that if this were done the SDLP would hand the Justice Ministry to the DUP. If Sinn Féin had listened to the SDLP there would be no agreement on the transfer of powers on policing and justice and these powers would have remained under the control of an unaccountable British Minister,” said Adams.
“The SDLP voted in the Assembly for interim arrangements. Having voted for these what are they complaining about? The interim arrangements have been agreed until 2012. They require cross-community support. This is the best means by which we can ensure the widest possible community support,” said Adams.
The agreement at Hillsborough has set 12 April as the date for the transfer of powers. This is a considerable achievement. If it had been left to the SDLP it would never have happened.

WORK DONE: Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Joint First Minister Martin McGuinness 

 

POSITIVE OUTCOME: Gordon Brown, Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and Brian Cowen at a press conference after the deal was announced 

 

Better late than never

Writing in his online blog (leargas.blogspot.com) on 7 February, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams addressed the success
of the talks at Hillsborough last week.

This Blog watched as Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson joined the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to set out the final piece of the jigsaw which saw agreement between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party on the transfer of policing and justice powers and other outstanding matters arising from the Good Friday and St. Andrews agreements. It was another good Friday in the Peace Process.
Many had thought it wouldn’t, couldn’t happen – that the respective positions of the Shinners and the DUP were too far apart. But it did and it was achieved primarily as a result of very intense discussions between the two parties.
This was a hugely important, as well as symbolic moment. The DUP rejected the Good Friday Agreement. They have an á la carte attitude to the St. Andrew’s Agreement. But this agreement at Hillsborough Castle is a different creature. It is theirs. And ours. And hopefully before long the other parties will come on board. This marks a new phase in the process.
The Agreement that has now been reached will see the transfer of powers on policing and justice in April. By the end of the year there will also be the transfer of powers from London to Belfast to deal with the issue of parades.
Key to this is agreeing a framework that provides for local solutions, respects the rights of those who want to parade but also the rights of those who live in those areas into which marchers wish to go. It is based on dialogue and on seeking to improve the adjudicating framework for contentious parades. No one should feel nervous about any of this. This agreement, like the Good Friday Agreement before it, asserts the right of everyone to live free from sectarian harassment. In the interim the Parades Commission will continue.
Agreement has also been reached on a process to progress the outstanding issues arising from the St. Andrew’s Agreement, and this clearly includes the rights of Irish language speakers.
It was the Shinners who put Acht na Gaeilge on the table at St. Andrews and this Blog is confident that the rights of Irish language speakers will be advanced in the time ahead. This Blog would have liked more progress on language rights. That’s one of the reasons I called the agreement a staging post.
There should be a draft strategy on the Irish language before long. The focus then will be to make this viable; with clear objectives and timeframes, and the inclusive involvement of Gaeilgeoirí to figure all this out. There is also more work to be done by the two governments in tandem with the Executive fulfilling its responsibilities to uphold the rights of those of us who wish to live our lives through our own language.
The Agreement at Hillsborough also agreed a process for clearing the backlog of Executive papers and decisions that are still pending, and advancing the all-Ireland aspects of the St. Andrew’s Agreement, including an inter-parliamentary forum and the consultative forum.
It is a detailed and timeframed agreement.
Of course, there will be some who will rail against it. The naysayers and begrudgers will study the detail of the agreement, seeking points of criticism. But they are the minority. The vast majority of people in the north and on this island want this process to work. Public opinion in recent weeks has overwhelmingly favoured a deal.
So, another agreement has been achieved and new and important progress has been made in consolidating the political institutions.
The judgement on our success, however, will be in whether the political process and the institutions deliver for citizens.
As the parties negotiated last week hundreds more job losses were announced in Belfast and Monkstown, in County Antrim. The numbers of those unemployed is rising; families are finding it increasingly difficult to pay mortgages and make ends meet. There are increasing numbers of our children living in poverty, while our elderly make life and death choices about heating their homes or buying food.
The reality is that for two years the Executive and the Assembly have not been as effective as they should have been in developing strategies and policies to tackle these problems.
There is now a significant opportunity to change all of that – an opportunity to build a society based on respect, equality, partnership and fairness. Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. As Martin McGuinness said yesterday we believe in a United Ireland. And in two weeks time on Saturday 20th February we will be hosting a conference on Irish Unity in TUC Congress House in London to discuss and debate this very issue.
But that doesn’t mean that Irish republicans and Unionists cannot work together in the interests of those we represent. We can and Sinn Féin is determined to make positive use of the opportunity that now exists to do that.

So, another agreement has been achieved and new and important progress has been made in consolidating the political institutions. The judgement on our success, however, will be in whether the political process and the institutions deliver for citizens 

 AGREEMENT: Martin McGuinness addressing a press conference after the deal was announced 

 

leargas.blogspot.com 

 

Kelly briefs Fermanagh Sinn Féin on negotiations

Speaking to a packed hall of Sinn Féin activists and supporters in the Clinton Centre at the weekend, Junior Minister Gerry Kelly said that while the recent negotiations with the DUP had been difficult at times, the party felt that the result was the right one for all the people in the North. He was briefing party members on the agreement reached in Hillsborough on the devolution of full policing and justice powers.
Kelly was addressing over 200 republicans, many of whom spoke in favour of the settlement that will see policing and justice powers transferred. He told the hall: “We have agreed that the transfer of policing and justice powers to our power sharing government will happen on 12 April. We have agreed and put in place a process which will see the powers which oversee parades transfer to our administration before the end of this year.”

 

 

European Parliament informed

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún informed MEPs this week about the success of negotiations on the latest phase of the Peace Process, saying the agreement “should now allow the key outstanding issues to be addressed, and should move us towards stable political institutions, which will function on the basis of equality, power-sharing and mutual respect.”
De Brún was speaking at the opening of the European Parliament Session in Strasbourg.

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