'Blair and Ahern must call DUP's bluff'

27/09/2004 - 13:20:09

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern were urged today to “call the Democratic Unionists’ bluff” by triggering power sharing moves in Northern Ireland.

During a visit to the Labour Party conference in Brighton, nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the British and Irish governments needed to stand up to attempts by the Reverend Ian Paisley’s party radically to rewrite the Good Friday Agreement.

As British and Irish officials worked on proposals aimed at breaking the deadlock over future power sharing arrangements, Mr Durkan said the DUP had failed to engage properly with his party during recent negotiations at Leeds Castle in Kent and at Stormont.

“The SDLP engaged intensively in the talks,” the Foyle Assembly member said.

“Nobody put forward more proposals than we did. Yet, in response throughout all the negotiations we got nothing on paper back from the DUP.

“The time has now come to call the DUP’s bluff.

“The two governments should recall the Assembly and end suspension now. Then we can see who is for real and who is really causing the problems.”

At the end of talks recently at Leeds Castle in Kent, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern believed a breakthrough had been achieved on the thorny issues of IRA weapons and future paramilitary activity.

However, a row between the DUP and SDLP over future devolved structures has meant the IRA’s offer has not yet been revealed in public.

The DUP has been pressing for power sharing ministers to be made more accountable to their cabinet colleagues and to the Assembly, with MLAs able to overturn unpopular decisions.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin, however, have accused the DUP and the cross community Alliance Party of trying to rewrite the Good Friday Agreement by placing limitations on future Stormont ministers and trying to change the way the Executive will work with the Irish Government on cross-border initiatives.

Democratic Unionist Assembly member Arlene Foster claimed on Sunday her party’s recent discussions with the SDLP were depressing.

She accused the SDLP of “chest beating” in the face of growing a Sinn Féin mandate and its own electoral decline.

The DUP Assembly member said: “The choice now is do we stick rigidly to the divide over a tried and failed Agreement or do we come to a consensus on a deal in the here and now and move on?

“We are ready to come to a deal but not just for the sake of doing a deal and not because anyone else dictates it. It has always had to be a good and fair deal.

“The SDLP have to choose whether they will allow us all to move on and see whether the IRA really is offering what the media tell us, or are they going to be the block to progressing to a lasting deal which both unionists and nationalists can support.”

Mr Durkan countered today that what was needed now was not a change in the Agreement but a change to the DUP’s attitude.

“The SDLP recognises that the DUP have a significant mandate,” he said.

“But the governments have to show to them that the Agreement has a far bigger one.

“The governments have to put a stop to the DUP’s stand and deliver tactics on the Agreement.

“Now is the time for restoration. Now is the time to call the DUP’s bluff. Now is the time to end their bluster.”

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