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9 March 2000 Edition

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Impasse remains

BY SEAN BRADY

Despite a number of meetings this week, Sinn Féin says that no progress has been made on the restoration of the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement and that the political impasse remains.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at government buildings in Dublin on Friday, 3 March. The discussions centered on exploring how the British government could be persuaded to set aside its veto and the unionist veto and restore the institutions that are the anchor of the peace process.

Adams also raised with Ahern the issue of how the Irish government could move more quickly to ensure the speedy implementation of those outstanding aspects of the Agreement which have yet to be put in place.

Following the meeting, the Sinn Féin President cautioned against any suggestion that there would be a Dayton-type summit in Washington later this month and said that the problem had to be resolved in Ireland: ``It has to be resolved by the British government facing up to its responsibilities. Of course, the Clinton adminstration can help in all of that. But beware of those who would tell you that there will be a whole run of meetings, or of intense consultations culminating in a summit on St Patrick's Day, because all that would lead to would be hangovers the day after.''

In his Presidential address to the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis last weekend, Bertie Ahern said: ``It was unfortunate that right up to the last minute, more progress had not been made in sorting out the very difficult arms issue and in demilitarising areas like South Armagh.'' He subsequently faced criticism from unionist spokespersons for his equivalence between the IRA and British forces in the Six Counties.

Meanwhile 26-County Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen, British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson and US Deputy National Security Adviser James Steinberg were in Belfast on Tuesday and Wednesday for a series of meetings with the political parties.

James Steinberg met with representatives of Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance Party and with British Direct Ruler Peter Mandelson on Tuesday and with the Ulster Unionist Party on Wednesday.

A series of bilateral meetings between the the political parties and the Irish and British governments began on Wednesday morning, while a round-table discussion was planned for later that evening.

Gerry Adams said that too much hope should not be placed in the talks and that it would be pointless if all that happpened was a ``regurgitating of all the circular arguments. He went on: ``I don't have any faith in round tables, square tables, rectangular tables, coffee tables or any other variation of meetings until the British government realises it caved in to unionist demands and tore down institutions and tore up the agreement''.

Sinn Féin has continued to maintain that the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement should be re-established. What is now clear to everyone is that the British government's decision to suspend those institutions was unilateral and this has been acknowledged in comments by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. That British government's action was clearly a grave mistake and has precipitated the worst crisis to face the peace process. Nothing has been offered to replace the institutions or the Agreement and the political vacuum grows.

The Good Friday Agreement now lies in tatters. The depth of the current political crisis is underlined by the fact that not only have the institutions been collapsed, but neither has there been any progress or delivery on the whole range of matters promised by the Agreement. This includes the equality agenda, issues of justice, cultural rights, policing, demilitarisation and human rights.

Furthermore, despite the immense hope generated by the Agreement, there has been no economic or political dividend for the people as a result of it. Unionist political leaders, through obstruction, non-engagement and a purely tactical approach, have been allowed to fritter away almost two years in which political progress could have been consolidated.

In this, their actions have been ultimately underwritten by the British government. The fact that a British Secretary of State can take upon himself the right to ignore and subvert the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Ireland, as expressed in the May 1998 referenda, is a source of enormous anger, frustration and concern. The British government remains in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin will continue to fulfill its obligations under the Agreement but the party is adamant that it will no longer accept a singular responsibility for resolving the current crisis. The Sinn Féin mandate, which is substantial and growing steadily on both sides of the border, and which entitled the party to two seats in the Executive, will not be given up over a unionist demand around IRA decommissioning.
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