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30 September 1999 Edition

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McGuinness warns on dangers of Agreement collapse

Sinn Féin establishes Commission on Policing


Speaking at the British Labour Party conference this week, Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuiness warned that it would be a disaster if the Good Friday Agreement was to collapse. He said the only way to take the gun out of Irish politics was to demonstrate that politics could work.

McGuinness also urged the Ulster Unionists to agree that an Executive in the North should be immediately established and that it would then be the responsibility of all the political parties to ``collectively'' try to deal with the decommissioning issue.

``I am looking not just to take the Irish guns out of Irish politics but also the British guns,'' McGuinness added. He went on to say that David Trimble should listen to others within his own party such as Duncan Shipley-Dalton, Jim Wilson, and Stephen King and establish the Executive: ``I think these people represent a large body of opinion within the unionist community, the business community, civic society and the churches who want to see the institutions established. The responsibility of dealing with decommissioning is a collective responsibility.''

At the conference in Bournemouth, Tony Blair criticised the Tories for using the issue of the Six Counties and the peace process as a political football in internal British politics. Meanwhile, responding to comments by Tory Shadow Spokesperson on the North, Andrew Mackay, regarding possible meetings with Sinn Féin, the party's Vice President Pat Doherty said: ``Sinn Féin has always expressed our willingness to meet with any party in our efforts to move the peace process forward and this includes the Tory party. The need for dialogue with a broad range of opinion is all the more urgent given the current crisis in the process.

``We will now attempt to make arrangements to meet at the earliest possible date. We are mindful however, that the Tory party has, up to now, been using the peace process as a political football in its domestic battle with the Labour Party rather than engaging in any positive effort to secure the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In fact, it was our concern at their pro-unionist and party political approach to the peace process that moved us to seek a meeting with William Hague earlier this year.''

The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met last weekend in Donegal for two days of intense discussions around the Mitchell Review, the Patten Report into Policing and how to build on the electoral success achieved by the party earlier this year.

Speaking after the Ard Chomhairle meeting, Pat Doherty said: ``Sinn Féin's attitude to the Patten report will be set clearly in the context of our desire to see the RUC replaced by meaningful transitional arrangements pending the creation of all-Ireland policing structures.

``Any judgement of the Patten Report will also be set in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, which set the agenda for Patten and which spoke of `a new beginning to policing... with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole'.

``The fundamental political changes envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement have not yet been brought about. These changes need to happen if the context for a new beginning to policing is to be created.

``We are mindful also that at this juncture and 18 months after the Good Friday Agreement, all repressive legislation remains intact and operable. The British government has yet to publicise its strategy for demilitarisation as agreed on Good Friday. The report of the review of the criminal justice system is pending, and allegations of abuses, which are of enormous concern to nationalists and in particular allegations of collusion in the deaths of nationalists at the hands of British government agencies, are not being proactively addressed. The RUC remains a major problem in nationalist areas.

``Recognising the critical importance of the policing issue to the widespread hope and desire for a permanent peace; given the intense public discussion which the Patten report has already generated; and wishing to come to this matter in a thoughtful, considered and constructive way, the Ard Chomhairle has decided to appoint a sub-committee, to be called a Commission on Policing.

``Its task will be to engage with and monitor the processing of this issue and to report back to the Ard Chomhairle. The Commission would also have to scrutinise any legislation which the British government enacts. In the meantime, the Ard Chomhairle will continue to proactively engage with the two governments.

Doherty continued: ``The Ard Chomhairle also discussed the current state of the peace process and the review of the Good Friday Agreement being carried out by Senator Mitchell. Many see this review as the last real chance for rescuing the Good Friday Agreement.

``Sinn Féin is wholeheartedly committed to the full implementation of the Agreement. The seriousness with which we have approached the review and the detailed submission we have made to it are evidence of our desire to achieve the establishment of the institutions and progress across all other aspects of the Agreement. Regrettably, at this time we see no evidence to suggest that the UUP leadership is serious about ending the crisis. Its tactical engagement has seriously undermined the Agreement and heightened the sense of gloom which is currently widespread.

``In the remaining weeks of Senator Mitchell's review, Sinn Féin will seek to persuade the UUP leadership that the Good Friday Agreement remains our best chance for a peaceful future and that republicans are ready and willing to work with them in partnership to achieve that goal.''

Reacting to comments this week from the Six-County Police Authority which criticised the report's recommendation to change tthe name of the RUC and proposals that a future a police service in the Six Counties should have 50 per cent nationalist representation, Sinn Féin's Bairbre de Brún described the Police Authority as:''little more than a PR agency for the RUC'' which ``for years has allowed the RUC to abuse human rights without any scrutiny''.

Last week, De Brún and Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin met with the Criminal Justice Review Group, which is expected to publish its report in the coming weeks.

The Sinn Féin representatives made detailed submissions in relation to the establishment of a fair, impartial and acceptable system of justice.

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