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13 November 2008 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column












Equality and partnership are cornerstone of success

THE ongoing impasse at the Assembly has been the subject of much analysis and comment. Depending on the political perspective of the pundits, there are differing emphases put on the cause of the difficulties.
Some of these commentators focus on the transfer of policing and justice powers, others on the education debate, the failure to develop the Long Kesh site, or on the disgraceful denial of the entitlement to an Acht na Gaeilge. While all of these are important issues in their own right it is misleading to say that all or any of them are the primary cause of the difficulties.
For some within the DUP, the major problem underlying all of these issues is that they are important to the nationalist electorate and community. There are some within political unionism who are intent on opposing and frustrating any change that they perceive as moving towards a position of equality and partnership.
These underlying realities are being ignored by parties such as the SDLP, who prefer instead to whinge that efforts to resolve these important matters are somehow proof that Sinn Féin and the DUP cannot deliver good government. But what is conveniently overlooked by the SDLP is its own record of failure when it had the opportunity to challenge David Trimble as the then leader of unionism.
If we reflect on the Trimble/Mallon/Durkan era we will recall that when the Ulster Unionists insisted on imposing their will on the operation of the Executive – refusing to allow ministers to attend all-Ireland ministerial sectoral meetings, blocking issues of concern to nationalists, etc – the SDLP was imprisoned within the system that it was unable to confront. It was paralysed and didn’t have the courage to confront Trimble. It refused to confront unionist intransigence and dismissive rejection of nationalist concerns. Time after time, the SDLP collapsed in the face of opposition from Trimble.
But as Ian Paisley once remarked: “That was then; this is now.” Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin will not be similarly pushed around by unionists.
Peter Robinson, in a number of interviews, has stated that the DUP entered the Assembly on the basis of its election manifesto and intended to deliver on it. I would urge Peter Robinson to stop bluffing himself and misleading his electorate. He did not enter the Executive on the basis of a DUP manifesto – he entered the Executive by accepting the conditions agreed in the St Andrew’s review of the Good Friday Agreement which was endorsed by the leaderships of Sinn Féin and the DUP. Without the endorsement of the principles of those agreements by both parties there would not be an Executive.
Sinn Féin is not in the business of implementing a DUP manifesto and, unlike the SDLP, will not collude or acquiesce in the denial of entitlements of the wider community.
Government must be delivered on the basis of equality and partnership – there is no other way forward. That is what we are about: delivering for everyone. 

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