Belfast Telegraph

It's make or break in bid to save deal
Parties ponder response to rescue paper

By Noel McAdam, Political Correspondent
18 November 2004

London and Dublin were braced for hard bargaining today as Sinn Fein and the DUP planned their responses to the governments' devolution rescue package.

Sinn Fein was urging the Government to alter significant elements of its blueprint to restore a power-sharing government.

And without moves towards resolution, republicans were urging consideration of a "more assertive, more pro-active 'plan B' scenario".

The DUP, meanwhile, indicated that its definitive response to the British and Irish governments' proposals was not imminent.

Deputy leader Peter Robinson said the party was considering and consulting on the detail of the proposals - but might issue a "holding statement" later today.

Negotiations on a deal which could lead to a new power-sharing administration early next year were entering their most delicate stage - with the governments hoping for answers within a week.

Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were due to meet Tony Blair in Downing Street today.

The party also said the DUP had been "brought onto the territory" of power-sharing - but the danger was that Government attempts to bring the DUP "further along the road" would mean veering from "the pathway of the Agreement".

Sinn Fein chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, said: "There is still work to be done but there is progress.

"The question is whether the Government in their anxiety to bring the DUP further onto that ground is moving away from the pathway of the Agreement. But we are big enough and strong enough to ensure that doesn't happen."

The Foyle Assembly member said: "We have a number of issues that will have to be addressed to our satisfaction. We have a general problem with some of the positions that have been outlined in the governments' proposals.

"These include the very significant issue of the power-sharing structures of the Agreement.

"We have significant technical and independent constitutional legal advice available to our negotiating panel, but I cannot get into the detail of the text.

"The template is the Good Friday Agreement. But if agreement cannot be reached we will be putting it to the Government that there is a more assertive. pro-active 'plan B' scenario."

It is understood that the governments' proposals do not include a firm date for the devolution of policing and justice - a key Sinn Fein demand.

They are also thought to include plans to upgrade the British-Irish machinery to give it more equal status to the North-South bodies.

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