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22 March 2007 Edition

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Moment of opportunity

The recent elections to the Six County Assembly saw an overwhelming endorsement of local political accountability, power sharing and the restoration of political institutions. The election was a clear rejection of British direct rule and of anti-Agreement candidates. The voice of the electorate could not have been clearer.
The only question that now remains is the same one which has bedevilled the process for the last number of years. Namely, will Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party agree to share power with Sinn Féin and others on the basis of equality?
There now exists a moment of real opportunity for all the people of this island, not least the unionist population. This is something which the political leadership of unionism must carefully consider. There is a real mood among the people for building the peace and making progress across traditional political divides.
Republicans have taken initiative after brave initiative in recent years to sustain the momentum of the peace process. Sinn Féin has negotiated long and hard with the British Government to create the current historically unprecedented conditions for progress.
The restoration of the political institutions, with the DUP entering inclusive structures would represent an enormous step forward both in strategic political terms and in the essential process of national reconciliation.
A peace dividend from the British and Irish governments has been a priority in Sinn Féin’s discussions with the Irish and British governments. With a historic opportunity to make significant progress the British Government has a particular responsibility to ensure that the incoming Executive is properly resourced. It cannot be saddled with the legacy of British government failure over the years to properly fund public services in the North.
What the DUP needs to realise however is that getting an adequate financial package from the British Government is impossible without a very clear commitment to functioning political institutions as set out in the Good Friday Agreement and at St. Andrews.
There is now a real expectation and hope that the DUP will live up to the faith placed in them the by the electorate and agree by next Monday to form an inclusive Executive.
If not taken now this moment of opportunity may not come again for many years.
If the DUP fail to sign on for power sharing, the Irish and British Governments must press ahead with their joint partnership arrangements.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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