5 March 1998 Edition
MEP supports inclusive talks
Blaney in call to Ahern
A rally for inclusive talks held in Monaghan town on Saturday 28 February was addressed by a broad platform of speakers which included Green Party MEP for Dublin Patricia McKenna, Women's Coalition member Brenda Callaghan, Independent Fianna Fáil TD Harry Blaney and Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin.
Patricia McKenna told the crowd gathered at the Church Square, Monaghan, that all parties involved in the problem should be part of its solution. The process should not just be for political parties - there was a role for community groups and the voluntary sector, who could be involved in a process that could run parallel to the political talks. She believed that ``a mountain-top secret meeting'' which would exclude the electorate would be very dangerous.
Harry Blaney pointed out that he had opposed the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the talks and was present at the invitation of Caoimhghín O Caoláin to extend his support for the rights of those who voted for Sinn Féin. On the exclusion issue he said:
``I had requested the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to make sure Sinn Féin weren't put out of the talks and I will be talking to him again to see that he ensures that the party is readmitted regardless of the situation.''
Equality for all traditions and human rights for every individual - this was the platform of the Women's Coalition. So said Brenda Callaghan who reiterated the Coalition's opposition to the exclusion of Sinn Féin. She said that Tony Blair should agree to meet Sinn Féin.
Brenda Callaghan said Sinn Féin was ``duty bound'' to go back to the talks to represent their electorate. She called on the unionists to engage in the type of negotiations that would point the way forward. She said that some form of assembly would come about but there needed to be cross-border bodies with executive powers and ``the Women's Coalition will not enter another Stormont''.
Caoimhghín O Caoláin said his party's options were open as to whether they would return to the talks on 9 March. ``The key question is whether there are real negotiations to return to'' he said.
On the granting of a retrial to Lee Clegg he said:
``This British soldier was the only one jailed in connection with the conflict to have been released early by the British government in four years of the peace process. The favourable treatment of his case, and the anguish that has been caused to the family of Karen Reilly, show up the double standards of the British government, with one law for the crown forces and another for everyone else.''
Deputy O Caoláin described nationalist confidence in the Blair government as at its lowest ebb since `New Labour' came to power:
``Irrespective of whether or not Sinn Féin returns to talks on 9 March, unless there is real progress on demilitarisation, prisoners and equality issues, nationalists and republicans will see no merit in the current fruitless negotiations. The British government could move on all these issues without the need for reference to the multi-party talks, but it has refused to do so.''
Despite the setbacks O Caoláin said hope was still alive:
``The biggest continuing source of hope and confidence is the goodwill across wide sections of political opinion, reflecting widespread popular support for real change coming out of real negotiations. Sinn Féin will fulfil its commitment to work tirelessly, with others, for the prize of lasting peace.''