McGuinness: Power-sharing talks at defining moment

18/11/2004 - 18:51:25

Northern Ireland’s politicians and the Irish and British governments are approaching a defining moment in the political process, Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness claimed tonight.

As his party leadership prepared to brief rank and file members over the coming days on efforts to revive the Northern Ireland Assembly and power sharing, the Mid Ulster MP said British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern were listening to republican concerns about the two governments’ plans to bring back devolution.

He said: “I think we are involved now in the most critical discussion process we have had for many years.

“There is a mighty responsibility on both governments and on Sinn Féin to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is defended.

“But there is also a mighty responsibility on the DUP to come to all of this responsibly.

“The reality is we have reached a critical point, which is hopefully a defining point.

“Whether there is agreement or not, there is a huge responsibility on the two governments to ensure that the type of change envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement is implemented, particularly the all-Ireland agenda and those sections on people’s rights and entitlements.

“We are trying to get an agreement which the DUP is a part of and the next seven to ten days will tell the tale.”

Sinn Féin and the DUP have both expressed concerns about the proposals Mr Blair and Mr Ahern put to them yesterday for restoring power sharing and resolving the issues of paramilitary disarmament and the IRA’s future.

Mr McGuinness tonight said the negotiations were very much a work in progress.

He confirmed that Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams will brief the party’s national officers’ board in Dublin tomorrow and would also meet Sinn Féin’s TDs and senior activists.

Mr Adams was due to join Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin for a briefing of the party’s Stormont Assembly group in Belfast tomorrow evening.

Mr McLaughlin was also pencilled in to brief Sinn Féin’s elected representatives, including councillors from across Ireland, at a conference in County Louth on Saturday.

“The fact is, we are nearly there,” he said.

“This is a defining moment. There will either be an agreement where hopefully we can all move in a positive spirit to ensure that people’s rights and entitlements are honoured or there will be no agreement, which will still be a defining moment for the two governments and their commitment to the Agreement if the DUP is not prepared to be a part of this process.”

Sinn Féin tonight was accused, however, of making a strategic error in the negotiations by the nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan.

Noting that there was a proposal that the Northern Ireland Assembly could vote for the entire power sharing executive in the future, on a cross-community vote requiring a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists, replacing the vote for First and Deputy First Ministers, Mr Durkan berated Sinn Féin.

“Mitchel McLaughlin has publicly confirmed that Sinn Fein is up for this,” the Foyle Assembly member said.

“That was their stance at Leeds Castle too.

“Sinn Féin clearly has not understood what this means.

“It gives the DUP the ability to veto the executive if it contains anybody that they do not like.

“It gives the DUP the ability to politically vet nationalist ministers. No longer will nationalist parties have the last say in who they appoint as ministers. The DUP will.

“And let’s be clear: this is a veto the DUP will use. The DUP will not pass up a veto opportunity any more than Sinn Féin will pass up a photo-opportunity.”

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