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18 September 2008 Edition

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Unionist opposition to equality at the heart of crisis

In his visit to the North this week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterated the urgent necessity for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Britain to the North. That is a view shared by the vast majority of people on this island.
But as An Phoblacht goes to press, the North’s Executive is in crisis. Irish republicans have delivered on every commitment entered into over a protracted period of political negotiations but the DUP continues to reject the basic principles of partnership government.
Unionist opposition to equality is what lies at the heart of the current impasse. This is nothing new. Since the foundation of the Six County state, unionists have consistently opposed moves towards building an equal society. To do so would be to acknowledge that the state was built on foundations of sectarian discrimination.
Nationalists and republicans have come a long way since the days when unionists could rule the roost at Stormont and manipulate the machinery of government to entrench their political domination. Those days are over. Sinn Féin will not allow the needs and aspirations of nationalists and republicans to be thwarted by a unionist veto.
If the DUP wishes to be in government, it will be on the basis of equality with Irish republicans and nationalists. The DUP entered the current political institutions on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews review. These were based on the principles of equality and parity of esteem. By going into government the DUP signed up to these principles.
The DUP’s opposition to the transfer of Policing and Justice is a refusal to accept that nationalists in the North have the right to have a say in how the North is policed and how justice is administered. But nationalists are no longer willing to be policed by unionism.
Some DUP figures have attempted to use the economic problems facing people in the North to divert attention from their refusal to deliver on their commitments under the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.
But the fact is that the Northern executive, unlike other governments, has no tax varying powers and the British Treasury determines the amount of finance available to it. When Sinn Féin tabled an Assembly motion seeking the transfer to the Executive of as much economic responsibility as possible, unionists opposed it.
If the DUP is serious about participating in government, it needs finally to embrace the concept of partnership in an Executive based on equality and parity of esteem.
All sections of society must feel ownership of the political institutions and derive benefit from them. Only on this basis can government in the North be sustained.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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