25 February 2006

Nationalist war-of-words over talks


A war of words has broken out between two North Belfast MLA’s after a Sinn Féin representative accused the SDLP of joining with the DUP to “undermine the Good Friday Agreement.”
Gerry Kelly was speaking following the British and Irish governments’ confirmation that the SDLP and DUP had agreed to take part in round-table discussions without Sinn Féin. The talks process was criticised by the UUP and the republican party.
“In our discussions this afternoon [Tuesday] the two governments indicated that they wished to press ahead with a round-table meeting involving the DUP and the other parties but excluding Sinn Féin. We told the two governments in no uncertain terms that this approach was completely unacceptable and it was simply not an option to try and exclude the vast majority of nationalist opinion from such dialogue.
“It also became clear that the UUP were not on board for such an approach being adopted but that the SDLP and DUP had indeed signed on which saw the exclusion of the largest nationalist party from the round table.
“The SDLP now have serious questions to answer. It was the SDLP who complained bitterly that they were excluded by the two governments from playing a full role in the talks of late 2004 yet have now aligned themselves with Ian Paisley and the DUP in trying to exclude nationalist and republican opinion from these discussions.”
But North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness hit back at Sinn Féin saying the SDLP want to see everyone involved in round-table discussions.
“The SDLP is certainly committed to full and comprehensive negotiations amongst all the parties, including the DUP and Sinn Féin.
“Unlike Sinn Féin at Leeds Castle, who dealt exclusively with the DUP through intermediaries, we are committed to an inclusive talks process and seek agreement amongst all the parties including the DUP with whom Sinn Féin are very anxious to build a political accommodation to the exclusion of the SDLP.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

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