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11 September 2008 Edition

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Anger and disbelief at Durkan proposal

THERE is disbelief and anger within the republican and nationalist community at the proposition by SDLP leader Mark Durkan that power-sharing arrangements, negotiated as part of the Good Friday Agreement, be scrapped and that the Six Counties return to majority rule.
The failed and discredited system of majority rule in the North previously led to institutionalised sectarian discrimination and four decades of conflict and destruction on the island of Ireland and in Britain.
The power-sharing institutions are an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement and for good reason. Mark Durkan proposes to dispense with this system of government which, while not perfect, at least provides protections to the republican and nationalist community from the abuses of power that attended unionist rule at Stormont.
Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of defending political power sharing, both at Stormont and within local government.
Many people are angry that Mark Durkan now says he is willing to accept unionist majority rule as long as there is a Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is part of the Good Friday Agreement and must be delivered regardless. However, Durkan has now indicated that he is willing to trade nationalist participation in the Executive for the delivery of this same Bill of Rights.
Even in the context of a Bill of Rights, a unionist Executive dominated by the DUP would undoubtedly seek to pursue policies and decisions to undermine, as much as possible, the all-Ireland dimension of the Good Friday Agreement and re-entrench partition.
Up to this point, the DUP has failed to demonstrate that it is committed to sharing power on the basis of equality.
The SDLP should join Sinn Féin in challenging the DUP but instead, its leader is indicating that he wants to let the DUP rule the roost in a totally unionist Executive at Stormont.
While some people might view this as an attempt by the SDLP leader to make himself relevant, others know that what he is proposing is very dangerous.
The suspicion is that Mark Durkan is again putting narrow party self-interest above the need to ensure effective power sharing and the protection of the nationalist and republican constituency.
Is it any wonder that the DUP’s Upper Bann MP David Simpson greeted Durkan’s comments with glee, saying that he welcomes “news that Mark Durkan and the SDLP have eventually caught a glimpse of page 29 of the DUP’s 2007 Election Manifesto and have recognised that our policy is not only wise but practical”?
Regardless of the SDLP leader’s ill-advised abandonment of power sharing or the haste from the DUP, UUP and Alliance Party to welcome Mark Durkan’s U-turn, there will be no return to unionist majority rule at Stormont. Neither will there be an engineered process to exclude Sinn Féin.

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