09 April 2006

SDLP refuses deal with Sinn Fein

Sunday Times

Liam Clarke
April 09, 2006

THE SDLP has rebuffed Sinn Fein proposals for a joint approach to the British and Irish governments’ proposals for restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.

The proposal for a joint statement by Gerry Adams and Mark Durkan, the party leaders, was made at a Sinn Fein/SDLP meeting in Belfast last Tuesday, the first in several months. Durkan did not attend, citing commitments in his Foyle constituency.

An SDLP source said: “When we are in a position of greater strength than we have been for two or three years, we are not going to give other people cover. Let them live with the consequences of their actions.”

The Sinn Fein delegation comprised Adams, Conor Murphy, an MP, Catriona Ruane, Declan Kearney and John O’Dowd, an MLA. The SDLP delegation was Alex Attwood, Sean Farren, John Dallat and Dolores Kelly.

Sinn Fein was told that its proposal was a matter for Durkan, who later issued his own statement without reference to Adams.

The SDLP believes that Sinn Fein conceded too much to the Democratic Unionist party in talks for a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement at the end of 2004. It believes republicans agreed a form of shadow assembly, with senior civil servants acting as ministers, due to their desperation to get amnesties for on-the-run IRA suspects.

The SDLP believes that Sinn Fein is now looking for political cover if it agrees to such an arrangement.

Sinn Fein has asked for a series of meetings with the SDLP to discuss a joint approach on a range of issues. The SDLP has agreed to this but a senior source said: “We will also be having meetings with all the other parties on exactly the same issues.”

There seems little likelihood of a pan-nationalist approach emerging before the Stormont assembly is recalled next month. All parties recognise that the initial push will fail but there are plans to give the assembly a scrutiny role and extend its life for a further 12 weeks.

Both governments say that November 24 is the “final” deadline for forming an executive. Yesterday Peter Hain, the secretary of state, told the BBC that this date would be written into an emergency law to be brought before parliament this month.

The fear of some form of joint authority creates an incentive for the DUP to share power but Hain reassured its members of no change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.

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