Irish American Information Service


10/06/04 11:01 EST

The Democratic Unionist Party must meet Sinn Fein face to face if they want their claims about achieving a lasting deal in Northern Ireland to be taken seriously, they were told today.

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin claimed the party`s ban on direct contact with republicans was insulting.

The Foyle Assembly member argued: "The DUP currently sit on councils with Sinn Fein discussing local services. They sat on committees in Stormont discussing serious matters. They sit in studios debating peace process issues with Sinn Féin. Yet they continue to refuse to sit down around a negotiation table and try and find a resolution to the outstanding matters."

He said nationalists and republicans who were deeply sceptical of the DUP commitment to reaching a deal and seeing the political institutions restored would be somewhat reassured if the DUP began to recognise basic democratic mandates and standards.

"Their positive pronouncements about making progress and achieving sustainable and stable institutions would have much more credibility if the DUP stopped insulting the Sinn Fein electorate and actually sat down and discussed these big issues face to face with republicans," he said.

The British and Irish Governments believe talks in Kent last month achieved a significant breakthrough on the difficult issues of disarming and effective standing down of the IRA.

However the IRA`s move has been put on hold because the DUP wants fundamental changes to the basic structure of the GFA, in particular how the power-sharing assembly would work.

The Reverend Ian Paisley`s DUP want significant changes with devolved ministers becoming more answerable to their cabinet colleagues and the Assembly being given the power to overturn unpopular ministerial decisions.

Nationalists point out that this is an obvious attempt to return to a crude form of unionist majority rule.

They have also accused the DUP of trying to limit the scope and strangle the work of institutions under the Agreement which allow for cross-border co-operation between governments in Stormont and Dublin.

British and Irish officials have been working on their own proposals for breaking the deadlock.

However Sinn Fein and the SDLP are concerned that London and Dublin`s proposals could remove safeguards in the 1998 Agreement against the abuse of power by one party at Stormont.

On Monday, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson insisted there could be a deal which addressed the fundamentals of the Agreement as defined in a letter to his party by Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy.

The East Belfast MP said Mr Murphy had defined these as: "the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means; the guarantee that there will be no constitutional change without consent and the requirement for cross-community participation in devolved government".

"At the meeting we held with him, he added the need for North South co-operation to this list. Anyone who has read DUP manifestos and policy papers will know that none of these principles would be inconsistent with what the DUP has been saying. Of course the method of achieving them can differ from how they were being sought in the Belfast Agreement - but that is a matter of process not principle."

Mr McLaughlin claimed yesterday the fundamentals of the Agreement included the broad principles of power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions and the checks and balances and protections.

The Sinn Fein MLA insisted these were needed to prevent the abuse of power by unionists.

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