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29 April 2014 Edition

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British Government facilitates unionist intransigence

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty looks for leadership in the Westminster parties on the Peace Process progress

• Pat Doherty

Not once has the British Tory/LibDem Government indicated its support for Haass/O’Sullivan

IT IS NOW several months since Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan put forward their recommendations following their talks with the parties in the North. That period has seen an abject failure by the leadership of political unionism, blocking the proposals and, most recently, the cynical attempts to whip up a fake firestorm over the OTR (‘On the Runs’) issue as a smokescreen.

In Westminster, the British Government has gone along with this by its own inaction and failure to positively engage to ensure progress.

Successive parliamentary questions have seen British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers repeatedly pressed on what the Government is doing to move Haass forward. The response is always the same assertion that the Government is “fully engaged working with the parties”. Yet not once has the British Government indicated its support for Haass, allowing months to drag by, reneging on its responsibility to drive forward the Peace Process and its obligations to fulfil the Good Friday Agreement.

The British Government argues that it is essentially a matter for the parties to resolve their differences – a position which in not neutral but which supports the current unionist intransigence. In effect, the British Government is engaged – not in driving forward the Peace Process but in allowing it to be blocked. British Government ministers are clearly able to move fast when it suits their agenda, like the speed with which the OTR inquiry was established, or their sense of purpose in attempting to impose their welfare cuts agenda.

The charge of Tory disengagement has been made for some time, not least from the British Labour Party opposition. Labour, for its part, has said the Haass proposals “offer the basis for a positive way forward”. But as well as urging engagement, Labour should also spell out exactly what that engagement should be and what it would do were it to form the next government in 2015.

A celebrated legacy of the last British Labour Government was its role in achieving the Good Friday Agreement. Labour now needs to be clear that, in power, it would positively engage to take the Peace Process forward, in particular with a manifesto commitment to fulfil the outstanding issues of the Good Friday Agreement.

Secondly, Labour has to assert that, unlike the current government, it will not allow progress to be blocked by parties who are set against progressive change.

This is a winning policy which would not only benefit people in Britain and Ireland but would command strong support in the Irish electorate in Britain. This clear message is the leadership needed.

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