14 February 2006

Border links 'not a threat' to unionists

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
14 February 2006

Unionists have "nothing to fear" from stronger cross-border links - including security and policing issues, the SDLP insisted last night.

Travelling to launch a detailed blueprint in both Belfast and Dublin, leader Mark Durkan said: "People who are unionist, nationalist or neither should have nothing to fear from dynamic North South co-operation.

"We are all losers without it.

"We believe in North-South not just as Irish nationalists but as taxpayers, as service users, and as citizens. Not as a way of whipping up unionist fears or stirring up nationalist emotions - but so that we can fully exploit the potential of co-operation for unionist and nationalist alike."

The party's blueprint calls for an all-Ireland Intelligence Agency staffed by both the PSNI and Garda as well as:

--Island-wide police training.

--A joint Law Commission.

--An all-Ireland sex offenders register to prevent criminals exploiting the border.

It also demanded an all-island Criminal Assets Bureau - based on the stronger powers of the CRA in the South - ending the "bureaucratic difficulties" caused by the limitations on the powers of the ARA which can only handle cases passed to them by the PSNI.

Dismissing any suggestions the party was attempting to 'out-green' Sinn Fein, Mr Durkan argued the collapsed Comprehensive Agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP had been weak on cross-border issues and development.

But last night Sinn Fein welcomed the SDLP document, North South Makes Sense, and said there was now a consensus between the parties on many issues.

Northern chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said: "We've had enough rhetoric and promises; it's now time for action.

"I look forward to working with the two governments, the SDLP and others in delivering on this agenda."

Mr Durkan argued however there had been a reluctance by both governments and the other parties to face North-South issues going back to the 2003 review of the Good Friday Agreement and before and since the Leeds Castle talks.

The proposals document asked: "When it comes to such proposals, the real question has to be 'why not?' more than 'why?".

An all-Ireland economic policy unit should be set up along with the development of a north-south strategy to maximise overseas investment, added Mr Durkan.

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