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27 February 2003 Edition

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Time is running out

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has called for Tony Blair to offer real and substantial commitment to implementing the Good Friday Agreement, before time runs out.

In recent days, Sinn Féin's negotiations with the two governments have significantly intensified. However, the timeframe set for the talks by the two governments shortly after Blair's speech last October is almost exhausted.

Gerry Adams said during the week that Sinn Féin's focus is on "securing a definitive plan for the implementation of the many aspects of the Good Friday Agreement that Mr Blair acknowledged his government had failed to implement".

Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness met with Bertie Ahern on Wednesday evening, ahead of the Taoiseach's 'stocktaking' discussions with Blair in London today. The discussions are intended to provide an indication of what could be achieved at the Hillsborough talks on Monday, which will see the two governments meet again with the pro-Agreement parties.

Sinn Féin has presented the governments with a 57-page document, and both governments have expressed a belief that progress can be made in many of the areas listed in the document.

The indication from the British side that they are now prepared to legislate on matters around policing and justice, which 18 months ago they said was unnecessary, has been welcomed by Sinn Féin.

However, Gerry Adams said outstanding issues on policing need to be resolved in a transparent way, before power is transferred. He added that Weston Park-type declarations are not enough.

Sinn Féin is asking the two governments to ignore attempts by unionists to undermine the current negotiations. The party's leaders also believe that the so-called ceasefire called by unionist paramilitaries during the week is an attempt to once again put the onus on Sinn Féin to deliver in the negotiations.

"Despite early efforts by the unionists to reduce this crisis and negotiations to a single item agenda, our discussions have covered all of the key areas, from policing, through justice issues, the transfer of power, demilitarisation, equality and human rights matters, as well as the Irish language," said Gerry Adams.

In an expression of disappointment at the British government's continued pandering to unionists, Adams said: "While we have many concerns, the failure of the unionists to engage properly and the way in which unionist insecurity is being cited by British government negotiators as a brake on implementing change, is deeply disturbing.

"Apart from any other issue, the unionists need to be given clear and definitive commitments that they will be part of the political institutions and that they will sustain and stabilise these institutions."

The negotiations, like the Good Friday Agreement five years ago, are fundamentally about people's rights.

Adams has pointed out that these rights should be automatic entitlements for every citizen. "They are not concessions whose implementation and enforcement are dependant upon unionism's permission or its narrow interpretation of the Good Friday Agreement."

David Trimble has been accused of failing to deliver this message to his own constituency. He has continually pandered to the "No Camp" and has on several occasions acted to pull down the institutions set up under the Agreement. Republicans believe that to date the British government has shown more commitment to ensuring that David Trimble, rather than the Agreement, survives.

During the week, Newry/Armagh Assembly member Conor Murphy drew attention to the concerted emphasis by unionists on alleged IRA activity as a means of stalling progress. "Yet in my own constituency in South Armagh, despite promises of a rolling programme of demilitarisation, we still have to live with the daily harassment of British Army checkpoints, spy-posts on every hilltop and unending helicopter activity," he said.

"The very real problem is resistance to change by those who fear any forward movement on this island."

Sinn Féin is determined to pursue the ongoing negotiations, but its leaders warn that the provcess cannot work if the governments move away from the template agreed five years ago on Good Friday, or if unionism is allowed to exercise vetoes over issues which must see radical movement.

"Republicans need to be convinced that the two governments, but especially the British government, is serious this time about keeping and honouring commitments, and that real and substantial progress toward full implementation of the Agreement is now available," said Gerry Adams on Wednesday.

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