19 January 2006

Murphy attacks SDLP


THURSDAY 19/01/2006 15:59:54

The SDLP was today accused of encouraging unionists in Northern Ireland to believe they could water down the Good Friday Agreement.

By:Press Association

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In the build-up to political talks expected next month, Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy called on his rivals to withdraw their May 2004 proposals for civic administrators to run government departments until devolution returned.

The Newry and Armagh MP argued: "When the SDLP first published their proposals for British Government-appointed commissioners to run the 10 departments instead of locally-elected and accountable politicians, as demanded by the Agreement, they gave succour to those rejectionist unionists who wished to move away from the power-sharing core of the Agreement.

"This was a deeply flawed strategy and is one which is completely unacceptable to the vast majority of nationalists and republicans who voted for the Good Friday Agreement.

"Despite the encouragement given by the SDLP to those seeking to rewrite the Agreement, Sinn Fein successfully defended the principles which underpin the Agreement in the discussions in late 2004.

"Recently it seems that the SDLP are once again naively repeating the mistakes they have made in the past.

"They have opened up communication with the unionist parties in advance of planned talks chaired by the two governments on proposals which are less than that demanded by the Agreement.

"Once again they are giving encouragement to those within unionism who believe they can dilute or subvert the rights and entitlements demanded by the people across Ireland who voted for the Agreement in 1998."

With the British and Irish Governments planning an intensive push to restore devolution on the back of the latest report on paramilitary activity by the Independent Monitoring Commission, the Rev Ian Paisley`s Democratic Unionists this week ruled out the likelihood in the foreseeable future of power-sharing featuring Sinn Fein.

The party, however, confirmed it was planning to table a 16 page document advocating phased devolution - giving the country`s 108 Assembly members some role short of forming their own multi-party executive.

The Ulster Unionists are also believed to be putting together their own proposals.

In May 2004, SDLP leader Mark Durkan proposed 10 leaders from business, trade unions and community life should be nominated by both the British and Irish Governments to run the devolved government departments.

The panel would have to be approved by Assembly members on a cross-community vote at Stormont and would cease their work once MLAs were able to nominate their own multi-party executive.

The plan was slated by Sinn Fein, unionists and other parties.

Mr Murphy said today that, as the lead nationalist party, Sinn Fein would resolutely defend the Agreement and its power-sharing and cross-border institutions.

"Unlike the SDLP we will not settle for less," he said.

"The SDLP now need to make it clear that their proposals for commissioners have been binned and that they are prepared to join with the rest of nationalist and republican opinion on the island and defend the Good Friday Agreement."

The SDLP`s Dominic Bradley claimed there appeared to be confusion and contradiction at the highest levels of Sinn Fein, which could be exploited by anti-Agreement unionists in the forthcoming negotiations.

The Newry and Armagh MLA said: "Yesterday at a press conference, the Sinn Fein president said `what more is there to negotiate about? The negotiations are done. What more is there to negotiate about? We have had seven years, eight years, nine years, 10 years of negotiations. What we now need to see is delivery of all of the agreements that were reached, crystallised in the Good Friday Agreement`.

"On the same day in a statement issued to the press Conor Murphy said, `Sinn Fein will not countenance settling for less that the Agreement in any future talks or negotiations`.

"What`s going on? The Sinn Fein president says he is not up for negotiations and a Sinn Fein MP looks forward to negotiations.

"This sends out even more worrying signals to nationalism when it is recalled that only nine months ago Sinn Fein went to the ballot boxes talking about the need for `intensive political negotiations`, Mitchel McLaughlin on April 23, 2005.

"The DUP must be laughing all the way to the bank. The Sinn Fein leadership is sending out signs of weariness and weakness.

"The DUP must be thinking that they can cause further damage to nationalism and the Good Friday Agreement and the British, apparently already deeply embedded within the Provisional Movement, must be looking forward to concessions being handed to the DUP."

Mr Bradley said his party made no apology for calling for a date to restore the political institutions nor would it withdraw its proposal to allow civic administrators to run the government departments temporarily.

"That means ending suspension and getting the North South agenda working again in full," he said.

"If Conor Murphy is against this, then he is for suspension and continued British Direct Rule. Is Sinn Fein`s policy now `Brits In`?"

Accusing Gerry Adams` party of inconsistency, the SDLP Assembly member recalled how in October 2001 Sinn Fein advocated British ministers taking Ulster Unionist seats on the executive if David Trimble`s ministers resigned.

He also accused Sinn Fein of secretly renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement with the DUP in the December 2004 talks, with measures to exclude the SDLP from government.

"These are the damning facts of Sinn Fein`s record, and
no amount of spin can hide them," Mr Bradley said.

"It is time for Sinn Fein to back the Agreement and the SDLP`s strategy for getting it all implemented. That is the only way forward.

"But perhaps Conor could clear up one important question for the Irish people: do Sinn Fein back the Good Friday Agreement as overwhelmingly endorsed by the majority of people on the island or do they still back the failed and farcical comprehensive agreement negotiated with the DUP?

"That`s the question Sinn Fein needs to answer. Perhaps Conor would be better served clearing that up rather than confusing himself even more than he already is."

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