PARTIES BATTLE OVER PROPOSALS
Sinn Fein leaders are meeting party members across Ireland as
efforts continue to try to forge an historic deal involving the
IRA and Ian Paisley's DUP.
The British and Irish governments delivered proposals to the two
parties on Wednesday, outlining their view what would be
necessary to bring about IRA disarmament and the return of the
Belfast Assembly at Stormont.
The DUP's Assembly party today unanimously endorsed the party's
negotiating strategy, but party figures refused to comment
The party leader, Ian Paisley, earlier contradicted reports that
his party was satisfied with what was on offer. He indicated
that the DUP was still looking for guarantees about what the IRA
On the document presented by both governments, Mr Paisley said:
"Initial scrutiny shows that there are some areas of confusing
ambiguity and even apparent inconsistency.
"We will also want to have clarification on a number of matters
where there is a lack of detail or the use of imprecise text."
Despite signs that republicans are less than satisfied with
the proposals, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that he was
taking a "positive approach".
Speaking after a tense four-hour-long meeting with the Dublin
government on Wednesday, Mr Adams said that if more work was
done "then there could be the basis for forward movement".
He described the process and talks with the British and Irish
governments as work in hand.
The party's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the parties
were involved now in the most critical discussion process for
He said that his party was looking for a deal which could be the
basis for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
But he said matters concerning the faithful implementation of
the Agreement needed to be resolved.
There have been conflicting signals as to when such a deal could
emerge, with some sources indicating that a deadline of the end
of the month is unlikely to be met.
* A comprehensive deal would see a major act of decommissioning
by the Provisional IRA, to be verified by independent observers.
The details are being discussed privately in separate meetings
between some parties and the governments.
Dublin and London are said to be examining a number of
possibilities that would meet the DUP requirement for
photographic evidence of the decommissioning, but would not be
seen as an attempt to humiliate the IRA. Sinn Fein negotiators
are opposing the proposal, despite a suggestion that the
photographs would only be shown to a limited number of
Another major outstanding difficult is over the DUP's demand for
the decommissioning to be concluded before they would agree to
join an Executive, even in a powerless 'shadow' form.
Republicans recall the failure of David Trimble's Ulster
Unionists to carry through on a similar deal last year, even
after the IRA had made a verified act of decommissioning.
* On devolution of policing and justice, the proposals suggest
the British government would table legislation in the course of
the next parliamentary year. Any move to devolve these powers
would face the difficult task of securing cross-community
agreement for critical details in the Assembly.
* In a change to the voting procedure for the Office of First
Minister and Deputy First Minister, the governments have backed
a proposal for collective endorsement of the Executive (and its
nationalist and unionist ministers) by the Assembly.
This would result in parties nominating ministers and then a
single vote to collectively endorse the whole Executive -- again
requiring potentially difficult cross-community support.
Sinn Fein has been accused of making a strategic error on this
issue by SDLP leader Mark Durkan. He warned that the proposal
could "give the DUP the ability to politically vet nationalist
* The positions of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
would be simply allocated to parties on the basis of party
strength (along with the other Ministerial positions) -- ending
the original plan for a coalition of nationalist and unionist
leaders to share the positions.
* This is to be a strengthened Ministerial code, made statutory
to ensure, for example, that Sinn Fein ministers cannot act in a
freelance way. They will be bound by a code more rigorous than
the current pledge of office.
* On the north-south structures, if there is going to be
anything done in the future it has to be agreed by the assembly
-- again potentially risking a DUP veto. The existing
operations would be subject to a review.
* It is understood that matters such as British demilitarisation
and 'on the runs' are being dealt with separately from the main
paper put forward by both governments.