EARLY DEAL UNLIKELY
Amid wrangling over what might constitute the fundamentals of
the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Ian Paisley's DUP has again
cast doubt that a new agreement may be reached in the short term.
The DUP is demanding further details of a reported offer by the
Provisional IRA to end its activities as part of a deal to
secure the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is also insisting on stiff conditions for Sinn Fein's
participation in a Six-County administration in Belfast.
Meanwhile, the party has been told that must meet Sinn Fein face
to face if they want their claims about achieving a deal to be
Addressing a DUP event at the annual conference of the British
Conservative Party, the DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, said
his party would "continue relentlessly" until a deal has been
"That goal can be achieved with the hard work and genuine
efforts of all those involved," he said. "Some may have wanted
another quick fix from 'hot-house' negotiations, but the prize
on offer is much too great to waste on another deadline deal."
The DUP has demanded fundamental changes to the basic structure
of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular how the
power-sharing assembly would work.
At the same time, the party has demanded the text providing the
detail of the proposed IRA "acts of completion".
However, there was also a warning at the conference from the
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, that the DUP risked
"losing the opportunity".
After the original sense of urgency around the talks at Leeds
Castle in southern England last month, the Ulster Unionist
leader said there was now "a sense of things slipping away".
And "while the DUP might be congratulating themselves on their
conduct of the negotiation with London and Dublin", Mr Trimble
maintained, "the DUP's failure to engage (with republicans) is
part of the reason why things are slipping away".
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said the DUP's
ban on direct contact with republicans was "insulting".
He pointed out that the DUP currently discuss matters with Sinn
Fein on local councils, devolved Assembly committees and in
"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 would be "somewhat
reassured" if the DUP began to recognise "basic democratic
mandates and standards".
Nationalists have warned that DUP efforts to change the Good
Friday Agreement is an attempt to return to a crude form of
unionist majority rule.
The DUP has said that ministers should be more "accountable"
their cabinet colleagues and the Assembly given the power to
overturn unpopular ministerial decisions.
The DUP has also challenged the operation of the cross-border
co-operation between administrations in Belfast and Dublin under
the 1998 peace accord
Earlier in the week, the DUP's Peter Robinson said his party
accepted a list of fundamentals he claimed was put to it by the
British government: the commitment to exclusively peaceful and
democratic means; no constitutional change without consent; and
cross-community participation in devolved government.
The nationalist SDLP has since slammed the list as "shoddy",
citing for example, the guarantee that there could be no united
Ireland without majority consent.
"But every bit as fundamental to nationalists is the fact that
if a majority votes for a united Ireland, there has to be one,"
said SDLP leader Mark Durkan.
"The British list does not mention that there have to be
ministers with authority to take decisions, yet that is
essential to the agreement and to any form of proper government.
"And this flawed list does not even mention the fact that the
first ministers have to be elected together and lead together as
equals. This is crucial. If the first ministers won't even stand
for election together, they are hardly going to work together.
The list does not even mention north-south cooperation."
Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said the
fundamentals of the Agreement were "power sharing, equality,
all-Ireland institutions, human rights and crucially the checks
and balances, and the protections designed to prevent unionist
abuse of power" -- and were not up for negotiation.
Speaking after a week of intensive discussions with both
governments, he said that a comprehensive deal was only possible
within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Sinn Fein are up for a deal," he said. "We have been working
hard with both governments all week to try and achieve progress
but the bottom line is that the DUP need to accept that a
comprehensive deal is not possible short of the Good Friday
"Sinn Fein will not settle for anything less than the Agreement."