28 April 2005


Dublin and London urged to consider power-sharing

28/04/2005 - 18:22:23

The Irish and British governments must be prepared to share power in Northern Ireland if unionists refuse to go into government with nationalists, a senior Sinn Féin negotiator insisted tonight.

As unionist leaders continued to insist Sinn Féin cannot be granted a place in government because of IRA activity, the party's general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin urged London and Dublin to present the UUP and DUP with a stark choice.

"If, following the elections, the unionist parties continue to find excuses for refusing to share power, then it is incumbent on the two governments to share power in keeping with their obligations to deliver change in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"The people mandated a locally devolved administration here and we are not prepared to abandon that. But the governments carry a primary responsibility to jointly deliver the promise of the Agreement in the interim.

"The unionist parties are happy to share power where they have no alternative as is demonstrated in those councils throughout the North where nationalists are in the majority.

"The two governments should put a stark choice to those who would continue to reject democracy.

"The DUP and UUP will be glad to share power if faced with the choice of having no power at all and therein lies the clue for the governments in dealing with a sterile unionist position after the elections."

Devolution has been suspended in Northern Ireland since October 2002 when Stormont's power-sharing executive threatened to totally collapse over allegations of IRA spying.

There have been three failed attempts to revive power sharing - two of them involving Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionists and one last December involving republicans and the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists.

Unionists have insisted they will never share power with Sinn Féin while the IRA continue to recruit, train and target.

They have also responded sceptically to the IRA's internal debate about its future, following Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams's appeal to the Provisionals to consider abandoning armed struggle.

The DUP, UUP and cross community Alliance Party's election manifestos have all suggested politics in Northern Ireland should not be put on pause while republicans make up their minds.

They have called for the replacement of the current system of power-sharing at Stormont which forces the DUP, UUP, nationalist SDLP and Sinn Féin into government together and have advocated instead a voluntary coalition between some of the parties.

Nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan has, however, ruled the proposal out.

The Ulster Unionists' David Burnside said recent reports about the involvement of senior Sinn Féin leaders in the IRA Army Council made them unfit for government.

The South Antrim candidate argued: "The godfathers of Sinn Féin's paramilitary and criminal empire must be shunned by all democrats.

"It is time the two unionist parties, Alliance and the SDLP moved on to govern Ulster without them."

Mr Adams was also under fire today from SDLP, Ulster Unionist and independent candidates in his constituency after he did not take part in a debate on paramilitary shootings and beatings.

The SDLP's West Belfast candidate Alex Attwood said: "His non-attendance at the event would seem to be in line with his comment in Derry that criminality is not an issue in this election.

"The reality is that it is very much an issue for voters and people in this election."

Independent candidate Liam Kennedy also described the Sinn Féin leader's no show as disgraceful and detected considerable scepticism about Mr Adams's appeal to the IRA.

"It is not being taken at face value here in Belfast or in Dublin," he said.

"People want action on ending paramilitary activity, not words."

Mr Durkan tonight expressed concern that Sinn Féin and the DUP would try again to "Balkanise" Northern Ireland if they triumphed at the British general election.

The Foyle Assembly member noted comments from Mr Adams that he believed that despite all the rhetoric from the Reverend Ian Paisley, a deal could be reached by his party with the DUP.

"The SDLP is more sceptical and nationalists will be too. Sinn Féin suspended disbelief about the DUP at last year's Leeds Castle talks and yet look at the results.

"No one should suspend disbelief now. That's why if people let Sinn Féin and the DUP take over we are likely to have only more stalemates, suspension and polarisation.

"Even if they can do a deal, does anyone think that the parties who gave us the worst of our past can give us the best of our future ?"

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