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27 March 2003 Edition

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Peace process negotiations far from over

Concern about commitment of UUP


Despite significant progress in the last few weeks of negotiations, Sinn Féin has insisted that there is still no closure on key issues, including demilitarisation, policing and criminal justice reform. The party has also insisted that the existing proposal for sanctions against any party deemed in breach of its commitment to exclusively peaceful means remains a potential deal-breaker.

"As I said before, substantive progress has been made, but we are now seeking to close the gaps" the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said following a meeting with Bertie Ahern on Monday. Adams described the meeting with Ahern as "good and very focused".

"This meeting is part of the process of measuring the progress that has been made to date," Adams said. "The British government is aware of the issues that are outstanding. We need to see a continuation of the intensity of discussions that have taken place so far.

"This is about the completion of acts under the Good Friday Agreement as Mr Blair said in December. However, we have expressed to the Irish government our concerns about the timeframes and the commitment to which the British government is bringing to the process."

Despite subsequent claims by Ahern that the British-Irish document has been finalised, meetings between Sinn Féin and senior British officials continued yesterday in a further attempt to close gaps on policing, justice and other issues.

Martin McGuinness noted the British government's commitment to devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly and a similar 'in principle' commitment of the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble. Sinn Féin's chief negotiator also explicitly raised the possibility of Sinn Féin holding a policing and/or justice ministry at Stormont.

Responding to questions on the issue of sanctions, Gerry Adams said: "Our view on sanctions has been made very clear. We have no problems with structures to ensure all parties are compliant with the Good Friday Agreement. We are all for people keeping to the rules but this current proposition from the two governments goes outside the Good Friday Agreement."

On Wednesday, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimghín Ó Caoláin put the issue of sanctions to Bertie Ahern, saying that they would be "turned into further obstacles to progress".

Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he agreed there are already adequate safeguards and sanctions built into the Good Friday Agreement to help ensure all parties fulfil their obligations.

"I take that view because he does not seem to agree that the elaborate new structures of sanctions - which my party and I view as being constructed outside the Agreement - are contained in his current positions and that of Mr Blair. Does the Taoiseach recognise this is far from helpful and that these new sanctions will be turned into further obstacles to progress?" asked Ó Caoláin.

The Sinn Féin TD said there was ongoing concern about the commitment of the Ulster Unionist Party, in particular David Trimble, to the future stability of the institutions. Assurances were needed that a new Assembly will not be subjected to the same "topsy-turvy approach" as the last one.

Ahern responded that he was satisfied the mechanism will be in compliance with the Good Friday Agreement and will be applicable to all the political parties and said that its underlying aim is to provide stability.

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