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6 March 2008 Edition

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After Paisley

This week the North’s First Minister and leader of the DUP announced that he is to resign both positions next May. The announcement truly marked the end of a political era.
Paisley deserves credit for playing a key role in taking unionism on a remarkable journey over recent years. He has recognised that the only possible future for unionists is one of partnership with their nationalist neighbours within the Six Counties and on this island.
Paisley has many times quoted Edward Carson who at the end of his career described how the majority of Unionists on the island of Ireland had been betrayed by the British ruling class who used them as pawns in their game to gain political power at Westminster. The Unionist response then was to turn inward and consolidate a sectarian state in the Six Counties with institutionalised discrimination against nationalists that made conflict inevitable. Ian Paisley was central to that conflict for most of his career over nearly 50 years.
But what we may now be seeing is a turning outward by unionists. Westminster has become a cold house for Unionists. Their home is on this island. They are as much part of Ireland as the people of Kerry or Dublin or Donegal. The Irish people have worked out the means to share our political future. The Good Friday and St. Andrew’s Agreements will survive a change of leadership in the DUP. What is important is that the spirit of co-operation that has infused the Executive, the Assembly and the All-Ireland institutions continues.
The next necessary stage in the process is the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to the Northern executive. The British and Irish governments must honour the commitments they made at St. Andrews.
The DUP has said they will not agree to the crucial transfer of powers, claiming that public confidence does not exist for such a move. But the reality is that the majority of people in the North, nationalist and unionist, want these powers transferred now.
Unionists collapsed the old Stormont regime over 36 years ago because the British Government took law and order powers away from the North and there is a certain irony in the fact that now it is unionists who are objecting to the return of these powers.
Most people throughout Ireland wholeheartedy support the political transformation that has occurred in recent years. A transformation that has been personified in the civil working relationship between Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley.
However there are those within unionism, who oppose these developments. They include senior members of the DUP who still oppose the entire ethos of the Good Friday Agreement and are seeking to bring power sharing with republicans to an end. That is the context for the refusal to agree the transfer of policing and justice powers.
It is a matter for the DUP who leads that party and Sinn Féin will continue to work in good faith with the leading unionist party.
Sinn Féin wishes to continue working with the DUP in the power sharing government and to deliver for people across Ireland.
Whoever succeeds Ian Paisley as DUP leader needs to stand up to the rejectionists. They must lead the DUP in fulfiling its obligations on a range of issues, including policing and justice powers, and the Irish language.
The long term resolution of difficulties within unionism will not be found in attempting to appease the rejectionists.

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