DEAL OR NO DEAL?
DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams could hold
face-to-face talks as early as tomorrow as the St Andrews proposals are
worked through by the two party leaderships.
Prospective first minister Dr Paisley and Mr Adams are due to lead
senior delegations to a meeting of the shadow Assembly's Programme for
Government committee tomorrow. The meeting will discuss priorities for
the power-sharing Executive which the governments have said should be
fully restored by March 2007.
If the two parties officially exchange words, it would be the first
time the DUP and Sinn Fein have engaged in direct dialogue.
It was once considered inconceivable that extreme unionist hardliner
Ian Paisley and former IRA chief Martin McGuinness could share the
positions of First and Deputy First Minister. But under the St Andrews
plan, the two will take their positions as joint heads of a multi-party
coalition largely based on the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
If realised, the new compromise will see a number of new features in
the three strands of the new political dispensation. Most importantly,
the new "Ministerial code" and "Ministerial accountability",
woill require decisions of individual ministers considered "significant
or controversial" or opposed by a block of thirty Assembly members,
be subjected to the approval of the full Ministerial Executive.
There would be also arrangements to ensure that any three Ministers
could require any decision to be taken in the Executive to be made on
a cross-community basis.
Commentators believe this concession to the DUP will quickly lead to
political deadlock, anbd potentially provide Paisley's party with a
mechanism to stymie the new political institutions. However, the
Northern Ireland (2000) Act, introduced by Peter Mandelson to allow
London suspend the Belfast Assembly and override the Good Friday
Agreement, is set to be scrapped.
Direct talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein could be critical, as the
significance of a number of points in the proposals published last week
remain to be worked out, while other issues remain on the back-burner.
These include plans to hold a referendum in one or both parts of
Ireland to legitimise the Agreement, as well as a fresh election to
elect a new Belfast Assembly.
There are also important questions over the manner and timing of Sinn
Fein's potentially historic and transforming decision to support the
PSNI police. No clarity was delivered either on the transfer of
policing and justice powers from London to Belfast, and no mention of
further reforms to the PSNI, which remains associated with sectarianism
and discrimination in the eyes of Catholics.
There was also some unionist suggestions that the pledge of office, to
be taken by all Ministers in the new Executive, would be changed to
ensure Martin McGuinness swears a controversial oath to explicity
support the [British] rule of law.
No mention was made in the Agreement regarding the status of
republicans 'on the run' from pending prosecutions. However, the
British government did pledge to reduce barriers to employment for
former prisoners. A new Irish Language Act and measures on human
rights and equality will also be welcomed by nationalists.
The DUP said its delegation at tomorrows engagement of the programme
for government committee would comprise Dr Paisley, deputy leader
Peter Robinson and North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds. Mr Adams is expected
to be joined by prospective Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
and one other senior party member.
The committee met throughout the summer and while early meetings were
seen as farcical, some indirect engagement took place in the late
summer. The governments hope tomorrow will mark the beginning of
high-level discussions between Mr Paisley and Mr Adams.
Under the governments' plan, Sinn Fein and the DUP must say by November
10th whether they accept the proposals. Both parties have said have
embarked on a consultation process with their politicians, party
members and supporters.
Mr Robinson indicated that the DUP continued to be generally
comfortable with the Scottish proposals and denied criticism by the
Ulster Unionist Party that the St Andrews document was the Good Friday
Agreement "for slow learners".
"This agreement is immeasurably better than the lousy deal negotiated
by the UUP in 1998," Robinson declared.
Mr Adams told a republican rally in Belfast that republicans must be
prepared for DUP politicians attempting to sell the agreement as a
victory for the DUP. Republicans must be "more mature" than
"Bringing rejectionist unionism into the peace process would be an
enormous achievement," he said. "Our endeavour is to make peace
Ian Paisley and those he represents because we are avowedly
Mr Adams said he would soon brief Sinn Fein's leadership on the plan,
and said dissent would be tolerated.
"Let me remind everyone here that negotiations have been an integral
part of our struggle, of your struggle for some time," he told
supporters on Saturday night.
"What we achieve we achieve together as we move forward in a united
"That does not mean that we cannot disagree with each other. Of course
we can and we should when appropriate and be secure in our right to
Acknowledging that the talks produced proposals and not an agreement,
the 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. said all of the
North's parties "had been through all of the elements of the agreement"
and had sight of all of "the minute details. We have made all of
amendments that we could to satisfy as many as we possibly could",
told Irish television.
He said he hoped that Sinn Fein and the DUP would respond positively.
"They have to go through their own processes. This is a big decision.
They have to come back to us and respond to us in a couple of weeks.
Hopefully, there won't be too many wrinkles in all of that," he said.
The DUP had to show during the three days of talks that it was prepared
to share power with Sinn Fein, he said.
"The answer to that is 'Yes'. They have made that clear if all of
happens, as is listed out and as put forward in this, they will go into
a powersharing executive."
Sinn Fein, meanwhile, had faced questions about whether it would join
the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and support the Police Service of
Northern Ireland. "The answer to that, again, is yes, but again the
process has to roll in the weeks ahead on that particular issue.
"We won't have to wait long to see if that is a reality because
effectively when the first minister and deputy first minister are
nominated on the 24th then the die is cast. We will not be waiting long
to see if the die is cast." But he was more than hopeful that all
parties would agree.
"We have an understanding that they will. That will be truly, I think,
be a historic day."