NI Office blocking progress on peace - Sinn Féin

29/08/2004 - 15:22:39

Sinn Féin launched a stinging attack on the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) today for what it branded its destructive role in the peace process.

As the British and Irish governments prepared this week to resume political talks with the local parties in a bid find an agreement on the restoration of devolution, Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin painted a picture of the NIO as a major stumbling block to progress.

The “unaccountable” Northern Ireland Office was a particular example of the need for urgent change, he said.

“The NIO with its in-built unionist bias runs the six counties virtually as the old Stormont government.

“Direct Rule ministers fly in for a few hours a week simply to rubber stamp decisions pre-formulated by senior civil servants,” said Mr McLaughlin.

“Too often, those who work within and for the NIO, demonstrate an unapologetic devotion to the unionist cause. The manifestation of unionist government for the unionist people is still preserved,” he said.

Mr McLaughlin added: “Small wonder then that unionists generally are in favour of the status quo, no matter how undemocratic, so long as it poses no threat to their interests.

“Tony Blair needs to rein in the NIO.”

Sinn Féin, he said, was intent on achieving the re-establishment of the local political institutions.

“It is only as locally mandated ministers that we will be able to remove the influence of the rejectionists and the securocrats in the NIO over every facet of our lives”.

He said it seemed obvious the British government had a difficulty in accepting that its policy of upholding the union constituted “an obstacle to a comprehensive resolution of the conflict”.

Current British policy perpetuated and institutionalised inequality and many unionists consequently saw no imperative to co-operate with or promote the concept of reform, he said.

Mr McLaughlin used the commemoration in Ballina, Co Mayo, of the 30th anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Michael Gaughan in Parkhurst Prison to launch his attack on the Government.

He also said the new political reality of Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party being the major forces in Northern Ireland meant that the DUP should drop its stance of not negotiating with his party.

“The new reality must bring with it a new political realism,” he said.

The new round of talks begin at Stormont on Wednesday under the chairmanship of Ulster Secretary Paul Murphy and Foreign Minister Brian Cowan.

They are being seen as a warm-up to the main event later in the month when British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern head an intensive drive for agreement during talks at Leeds Castle in Kent.

The Stormont meeting comes the day after the 10th anniversary of the first IRA ceasefire and the Catholic primate , Archbishop Sean Brady, today called on all sides to go the extra mile to achieve a breakthrough.

“This means being willing to make the first move, not out of a position of weakness, but as an expression of self confidence and the willingness to inspire self confidence in others,” said the Archbishop.

An example would be a decision by the IRA to remove from the present political climate “what has been called the ’excuse’ of their continued existence”.

Dr Brady said he believed it was possible and he would be disappointed if such a development was not met by a positive response from loyalist groups.

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