24 July 1997 Edition
No surprise at unionist veto
There were no surprises on Wednesday at Stormont when the DUP, UUP and Robert McCartney voted against the London and Dublin governments decommissioning proposals. Apart from the vote on the decommissioning document there was the rejection of 53 amendments to the proposals brought by the unionist parties. The amendments also failed to win enough support from the other participants. The UDP and PUP abstained on the votes. Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin who was in Stormont as part of the party delegation summed up the days events saying ``People are trying to apply a veto to the peace process''.
The expected rejection of the decommissioning document was followed by a `walkout' from the talks by the DUP and McCartney's UK Unionists, even though the talks are now effectively in recess until 15 September.
DUP leader Ian Paisley told reporters at Stormont that he was ``out of this process for this good'' and that ``David Trimble doesn't know where he is at the moment. He says he is digging in..... He's digging his own grave''. UDP Leader Garry McMichael attacked the walkout saying that the other parties had ``bolted for the door at the first sign of the enemy''.
In a joint press conference after the days proceedings Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam and Irish Foreign Minister Ray Burke assserted the hope that all parties will particpate in substantive talks which are scheduled to begin on 15 September with all of the ten groupings elected in the May 1996 elections present. The Dublin and London Governments have set May 1998 as the deadline for final agreement in the substantive talks.
During the time between now and the 15 September two separate processes are supposed to emerge. The first is the six week period over which the British Government will assess the cessation in ``word and deed''.
The second process is the intention declared on 25 June by both The London and Dublin Governments to establish an Independent Commission which would formulate draft schemes for tackling the decommissioning issues.
Mo Mowlam and Ray Burke are to meet early next week to formally set up the commission to examine the decommissioning issue. It will according to the joint document agreed by the two governments ``formulate options for draft schemes for deceommisioning in conformity with the Mitchell report....which may be available for discussion with all the participants from 15 September''.
Also likely over the coming days is a meeting between Sinn Féin and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as well as Sinn Féin and Mo Mowlam.
Unionists out of step - Kelly
By Mick Naughton
Senior Sinn Fein peace negotiator Gerry Kelly talking to An Phoblacht from Sinn Fein's Stormont offices on Wednesday afternoon accused Unionists of being ``out of step with their own communities''. Kelly was speaking against the background of unionist acrimony after the UUP, DUP and UKUP parties voted down the British and Irish governments decommissioning document. In that vote, the UDP and PUP abstained while the SDLP, Alliance, Women's Coalition and Northern Ireland Labour voted in favour.
Kelly, also hit the political nail on the head when he spoke of how this was yet another attempt by unionists to stall substantive negotiations aimed at ``reaching a just and lasting peace for all the people on this island''
``The unionist people elected their representatives to sort out this situation, but once again we are reduced to hearing the same old cries, which actually reveal the lack of depth of rational argument within those unionist parties who are clearly afraid of change.''
Kelly said Sinn Fein was ``looking forward to substantive negotiations in September.''
Revealing how the Sinn Fein negotiating team were putting together the `nuts and bolts' for that beginning Kelly confirmed contact with British officials inside Stormont's Castle buildings, the venue for the talks. ``We have had a preliminary meeting and a formal meeting is to follow,'' he said.
The political development that shook Ireland on Saturday morning, 19 July saw Oglaigh na hEireann reinstate its August 1994 cessation of military operations and resulted in much political fall-out. As the week progressed the various shades of unionism made a speedy exit from Stormont. The UKUP headed off on Monday as the Sinn Feiners arrived. An indication of what was quickly resembling the headless chickens routine came with the DUP suggestion that the Stormont venue be scrapped and switched to the Interpoint building, the Forum venue which no nationalist party attends.
After voting against the two governments document the DUP followed McCartney's UKUP out of Stormont, saying they ``wouldn't be back''.
However, playing a different hand, the Ulster Unionists have said they will return in September for the beginning of the talks proper.
The Orange Order on Monday called on all unionists to walk away from the talks. The fringe loyalists have criticised the bigger unionist parties for not staying in the talks. Paisley's venom against the UDP and PUP was clear when he stormed out on Wednesday.
Giving voice to the Sinn Fein analysis national Chair Mitchel McLaughlin pointed to the language in the last week.
``There was much talk aobut `the train leaving the station', `balls being in Sinn Fein's court' etc. Well the ball's no longer in Sinn Fein's court and there's no train apparently leaving. Of course we have to take time for others to steady themselves. We are witnessing knee jerking and posturing which will eventually be replaced by talking. We have never lost sight of the horizon. Our focus is firmly fixed on the big picture.''
Sinn Fein elected peace negotiators took their place in Stormont less than 24 hours after the IRA cessation came into effect.
Over the next couple of days they held a series of meetings with the SDLP, Women's Coalition and Northern Ireland Labour Party. Earlier on Monday Gerry Kelly had a meeting over coffee with Dublin government Foreign Minister Ray Burke.
The Sinn Fein team remain in place in preparation for the work ahead while the parties of Paisley and McCartney drive down the Stormont mile, preferring the dinosaur politics of deadlock, impasse and conflict.
The reality which unionists must face was outlined by Mitchel McLaughlin when he stated:
``We believe that this is about the exercise of self-determination by the people of this island and we are designing the political structures. Tony Blair made clear no outcomes were predetermined and no options have been left off the table. Not only do we believe that a united Ireland will be on the agenda, but I can give you a guarantee that it will.''