SDLP rows with SF over ‘diluted’ Good Friday Agreement

23 November 2004
By Harry McGee, Political Editor

SINN FÉIN and the SDLP have become involved in a bitter row over a claimed dilution of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) ahead of the key meeting between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair tomorrow.
The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister will meet in London to review the response of Sinn Féin and the DUP to the blueprint document for progress, presented by both governments. Mr Ahern will also hold a meeting with DUP leader Ian Paisley before he meets Mr Blair.

Yesterday, SDLP leader Mark Durkan held talks with the Taoiseach in Dublin and also briefed Fine Gael and the Labour Party on its reading of the situation. Unlike the DUP and Sinn Féin, the SDLP has not seen the full document and has criticised both governments for excluding the party.

Yesterday, Mr Durkan claimed SF appeared to have acquiesced to a DUP demand over the appointment of ministers to a restored executive. That, he said, would have the effect of diluting the agreement.

Later, senior SDLP sources told the Irish Examiner: “Essentially, the DUP want a requirement whereby each minister nominated for a particular portfolio must receive the backing of at least 50% of the unionist side and 50% of the nationalist side. That, in effect, will allow the DUP to veto SF members it does not want to see in particular portfolios like justice and education.

“We warned SF about this during the Leeds negotiations. When it was put to us we rejected it unequivocally on the basis that it diluted the GFA.”

But Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness hit back by accusing the SDLP of having a poor record of defending the GFA.

“Their record of defending the agreement has been dismal in recent times whether it is folding on issues such as policing or indeed having the temerity to suggest that financial penalties against us were not strong enough,” he said.

Mr Ahern said he would review the position at the end of the week before revealing any contingency plan the governments might pursue should the blueprint be rejected.

Senior SDLP sources, speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday, said they believed the DUP to be deeply divided on accepting a deal.

“Our instinct is that most within the DUP want to put back a decision on any deal until after next year’s Westminster elections,” said the sources.

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