31 March 2006

NATIONALIST PARTIES WILL NOT ACCEPT DEVOLUTION-LITE

IAIS

03/31/06 13:29 EST

The Irish and British governments were today accused of allowing themselves to be bullied by the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists into diluting the Belfast Agreement.

The allegation was made by Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness as officials in London and Dublin finalised the roadmap for restoring devolution in Northern Ireland which will be unveiled by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern next Thursday.

It is believed the two leaders will confirm during their visit to Armagh the Assembly will be recalled in May.

However the parties are expected to be given a November 24th deadline to agree to the formation of a devolved government.

But with speculation mounting that the Assembly will be given some kind of role, the governments were warned today by Mr McGuinness that Sinn Fein would not tolerate anything which watered down the 1998 Agreement.

"We are deeply concerned at the approach of the two governments," the Mid Ulster MP said.

"Rather than defend the Agreement by standing up to unionist rejectionists, the two governments are allowing the DUP to bully them into diluting the Agreement. This is mistake and we have told the two governments this. We remain in close and constant contact with both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minster."

"Our focus is on defending the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement. Anything less than that is unacceptable to Sinn Fein."

Sinn Fein and the nationalist SDLP have been highly critical of suggestions that the Assembly could sit for months ahead of the formation of an executive.

The DUP has insisted it will not be bound by any deadline imposed by the governments and will only base a decision on whether to form an executive on the basis of evidence that the IRA has ended all alleged criminality and paramilitarism.

The two governments were also warned today by nationalist SDLP deputy leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell his party was not interested in an Assembly which amounted to a DUP inspired talking shop.

But he also blamed Sinn Fein for the governments' proposals.

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