01 February 2006



01/31/06 09:16 EST

The Democratic Unionists were accused today of trying to hollow out power sharing from the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Fein vice president Pat Doherty made the claim after the DUP published "take it or leave it" plans for phased devolution.

Nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan also criticised the document, insisting his party would not tolerate any dilution of the Agreement.

In the 16-page "Facing Reality" document, the Rev Ian Paisley`s DUP ruled out the prospect of power sharing with Sinn Fein in the foreseeable future.

But it put forward a number of low, mid and high-range models in which the Assembly could function short of a power sharing executive.

These included:

:: A shadow assembly;

:: A European Union-style model with British Government ministers operating a council of ministers taking decisions and appearing before Assembly committees.

Legislation on devolved matters would require both the approval of the ministers and the Assembly before going to Westminster;

:: Full-blown devolution without the formation of an executive but with a corporate assembly holding permanent secretaries, the most senior civil servants in Government departments, to account.

Following the document`s publication, Sinn Fein MP Mr Doherty called on the British and Irish Governments to stand by the Agreement and the principle of power sharing.

"The Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty passed overwhelmingly by the Irish people in referendum," the West Tyrone MP said.

"The two governments have an obligation to press ahead with its full implementation in the time ahead. The DUP cannot be allowed to veto this process. The proposals published today by the DUP are a challenge to the two governments. They are an attempt to subvert the political process and delay the process of change."

"The two governments have an obligation to stand by the Agreement and its power-sharing core. This includes the power-sharing executive. Sinn Fein will not countenance a move away from the fundamental principles which underpin the Good Friday Agreement."

SDLP leader Mr Durkan said the DUP needed to face the reality that they have no right to write off the Good Friday Agreement and would not succeed in their attempts to do so.

"The DUP`s proposals are about `setting aside` executive devolution," the Foyle MP said.

"But it is at the heart of the Agreement and the SDLP will never accept its dilution. Nor will we agree with DUP proposals to allow direct rulers a continuing role. Even if other parties are ambiguous, we are clear that there is no acceptable level of direct rule."

"Finally, not once in what the DUP has said today have they mentioned the North-South agenda, yet it too is a fundamental part of the Agreement and an integral part of what the SDLP has always stood for. DUP papers which do not address North-South simply don`t address political reality."

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