Belfast Telegraph

Ahern claims DUP ready for power sharing with Sinn Fein

by Gene McKenna
18 October 2004

The DUP is ready and willing to share power with Sinn Fein, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has claimed.

His upbeat assessment emerged yesterday as the Irish and British governments engaged in a race to finalise a deal for restoration of the Northern institutions within weeks.

The Taoiseach's claim was bolstered when Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said it was "common ground" among all parties that "the IRA appears ready now, if we can put together this package of power-sharing on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, to take yet another historic initiative".

Speaking on RTE's 'The Week in Politics' programme, he said it was up to the IRA to set out what it would do. Sinn Fein had been seeking a solution which would mean the IRA's and all other arms would be removed.

It is understood that significant progress has been made in private talks on the restoration of the Northern institutions involving the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern with the parties.

They are anxious to secure "understandings", according to the Taoiseach, which would allow for a timescale for all parts of the deal to be carried through, which would "take some time".

The governments want to see a deal concluded before campaigning gets under way for local and general elections in the New Year. "Time is very short. There is a window of opportunity there and I hope we can complete this but I cannot be sure," the Taoiseach said.

Speaking at the Fianna Fail Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, he warned there must be no return to "majoritarianism" on the unionist side. At the same time he reminded republicans there was a "heavy burden" on them. History would judge them harshly if they lost the current "historic opportunity".

He steadfastly refused to speculate on the possibility of Fianna Fail going into power with Sinn Fein, saying this would only arise in the context of "normal" politics in the years to come.

He said his priority was getting the deal done which would lead to restoration of the institutions and an end to paramilitary violence.

Mr Ahern has indicated that Fianna Fail will not consider entering a coalition with Sinn Fein until the IRA puts away its arms.

"I believe if we can get an agreed end to paramilitarism and, on the other side, get agreement on the devolution of policing and justice . . . Then it is entirely reasonable to expect the DUP to share power with Sinn Fein," he said.

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