18 January 2006

SDLP challenged over non-inclusive assembly plans

Daily Ireland

Jarlath Kearney


Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy last night challenged the SDLP about controversial plans to re-establish the North’s assembly without an inclusive ministerial executive.
Growing evidence is emerging of the SDLP’s support for arrangements that would replace an inclusive ministerial executive. The executive was at the heart of the power-sharing assembly set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Under the current composition of the assembly, Sinn Féin would be the second largest party in any executive and could appoint the deputy first minister.
Secretary of state Peter Hain recently announced that the salaries of assembly members would soon be withdrawn if the institution was not re-established.
As disclosed in Monday’s Daily Ireland, SDLP leader Mark Durkan has said his party will discuss “other options” in place of an inclusive executive.
Within hours, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley signalled his party’s willingness to set up an assembly on such terms before the end of this year.
Republicans have warned that such as outcome would violate the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Murphy said: “I understand that the SDLP have been engaged in discussions with unionists on the basis of arrangements outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. This is disappointing.
“Nine months ago, the SDLP put forward proposals which involved scrapping the power-sharing executive and replacing it with administrators, appointed by the governments, to run the various government departments.
“This was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now. Power sharing and inclusivity are at the core of the Agreement.
“This is what was agreed by the parties and endorsed in referendum by the vast majority of the people in referenda North and South.”
Mr Murphy said anti-Agreement unionists would be pleased by the SDLP’s willingness to depart from an inclusive ministerial executive.
“The irony is we are at the point where unionist political leaders have no longer any excuse for refusing to re-engage in the institutions on the basis of the Agreement. The SDLP proposals provide unionists with a basis for further procrastination and some encouragement that they may achieve a major dilution of the Agreement.
“The SDLP must clarify where they stand with regard to powersharing,” Mr Murhpy said.
Despite Mr Murphy’s call for the SDLP to clarify its position, SDLP senior negotiator Seán Farren did not rule out an alternative to an inclusive executive.
“For the SDLP, the goal is the full implementation and working of the Agreement. We have never put forward proposals as an alternative to the Agreement, only as an alternative to stalemate, suspension and direct rule,” Mr Farren said.
“Sinn Féin will never be in a position to lecture us about the Agreement and its implementation. Their approach has given us three years of suspension and stalemate. Their approach has conceded a veto to anti-Agreement unionism.
“Our approach sees everything put up to all the political parties. That is why we want to move towards a restoration of the institutions.
“The very manner in which Sinn Féin have conducted negotiations has effectively conceded a unionist veto on the restoration of the institutions.
“So long as they insist that an agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP is a prerequisite for restoration, they will give the DUP a veto on the re-establishment of the [Good Friday] Agreement’s institutions,” Mr Farren said.

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