12 June 2003 Edition

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Cowen: Assembly elections must go ahead in autumn

Dublin Foreign Minister Brian Cowen travelled to West Belfast on Friday 6 June, where he met with community workers from across nationalist Belfast and heard of the anger felt by nationalists at the recent cancellation of the assembly election by the British government.

At the meeting in The Falls Community Council's Headquarters, community workers from North Belfast as well as representatives from the Short Strand in East Belfast expressed their concerns at the increased sectarianism their community face five years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

At the meeting, people said that by cancelling the Assembly election, the British government had only added to the tension already present in a volatile situation on the ground, particularly in interface areas.

One West Belfast community worker, Gerry McConville, articulated the feelings of the general nationalist population when he told the Minister: "There is a very strong feeling on the ground that our community is being stretched too much and is not being acknowledged.

"Entering Stormont was a hard hurdle and seismic step forward for our community but the peace process has been turned into political process and is now just a, 'save David Trimble' process. We can't continue to absorb that. Sanctions are a gun at Sinn Féin's head. They are totally unacceptable."

Among other issue raised at the 90-minute long meeting were those of collusion, prisoners' rights and the Irish language.

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice spoke of the concern nationalists had of the Dublin government being seen as "junior partners" in the peace process before asking Cowen to ensure that the Dublin government pressurised the British government over cases where inquests of people killed by British troops, the RUC or loyalists were being obstructed.

Minister Cowen, in his replies to the group, said that the Dublin government made it clear to the British that the decision to cancel the elections was "an error".

He went on to say that, "regardless of any other consideration these elections, at the latest, must be held in the autumn".

After the meeting, Minister Cowen met the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams before the pair faced the press.

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