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4 December 2003 Edition

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No stopping the wheels of change

The media outdid themselves in predicting doom for the Northern Peace Process this week. According to the headlines, the success of the DUP in last week's election has deadlocked the Peace Process, scuppered the Good Friday Agreement and ended the prospect of any future negotiations.

The smaller news story this week has been the acknowledgement that the majority of the new MLAs are pro-Agreement and that 70% of the electorate voted for them.

Yes, the DUP was returned as the largest unionist party, but it does not have an overall majority on the Assembly. It managed to swallow up most of the smaller anti-Agreement seats to bring its total to 30, but it did not convince any pro-Agreement voters to change their position.

Sinn Féin is determined to see the Agreement implemented. There can be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is the party's position and it has been saying it even louder since its tremendous success last week.

There are some who are attempting to present the current political situation as a standoff between Sinn Féin and the DUP. 'Polls apart' may make a good headline, but it is not a reflection of reality.

Sinn Féin recognises and respects the mandates of all the other parties. It has its own analysis and policies but this does not prevent it from listening and engaging with its opponents. The DUP might avoid dialogue, but Sinn Féin actively seeks it. That is why it has been meeting with other pro-Agreement parties and the British government this week.

As we go to print on Wednesday, the Sinn Féin leadership is meeting with Richard Haass to press the point home that the party is willing to talk, but there can be no renegotiation of the Agreement. On Thursday, Gerry Adams is meeting with Bertie Ahern to tell him the same thing.

The rejectionist-DUP can refuse to participate if they wish in the political institutions, that is for them to decide, but they cannot veto the other elements of the Agreement.

It is up to Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern to proceed with their commitments on policing, the criminal justice system, demilitarisation, the equality agenda, human rights, the Irish language and other matters, including OTRs.

The DUP may be afraid of change, but they cannot stop it.


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