PAISLEY DENIES CHRISTMAS DEAL
A crisis is mounting in the North of Ireland as a result of the
continuing failure of the hardline unionist DUP to respond positively
to the historic but divisive decision by the Sinn Fein leadership to
recognise the courts and support the police force which remain under
the authority of the British Crown.
After returning early from his Christmas break in Miami, British Prime
Minister Tony Blair said it was his assessment that if Sinn Fein
delivered on policing, the DUP would accept devolution of justice
powers by May 2008.
In his response, DUP leader Ian Paisley "welcomed" the assessment,
the British government's Northern Ireland Office interpreted this as
acceptance. Efforts by Sinn Fein to garner more positive langauge
from Mr Paisley over the weekend proved fruitless.
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said yesterday it was
now "pointless" to pretend the DUP had agreed to share power
26th or to the timetable for the transfer of powers on policing by May
2008 "when they clearly have not".
Further clarity emerged today when Mr Paisley, responding to an article
by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said he was "amazed"
Mr Blair wrote: "My assessment from the detailed conversations I
had with the DUP is that, provided there is delivery of the Sinn Fein
commitment, they will enter into government with Sinn Fein on March
26th and they will accept devolution of policing and justice powers in
the timeframe set out in the St Andrews agreement or even before that
"Personally, I think any other outcome would be wrong, unfair to
sections of the community in Northern Ireland and a complete waste of
one-off, once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a lasting peace."
However, Mr Paisley has accused Mr Blair of misrepresenting his party's
policy in the article.
"I do not agree with the statement of the Prime Minister when he
that we, the DUP, agreed there could be devolution of policing and
justice within a certain time limit," he said.
"Sinn Fein have said there was a date... this is a completely untrue
"I would ask the Prime Minister to say when this meeting takes place,
who asked the question. There is a triple lock in place, when policing
is devolved it goes back to the First Minister.
Mr Paisley concluded: "I can't agree with the Prime Minister unless
believe it is the truth."
The contradiction has badly undermined confidence in the negotiations
over the Christmas period, which led Gerry Adams to make a move
described as "seismic" by British Direct Ruler Peter Hain.
While Sinn Fein has adhered to the timetable for the return of
power-sharing set out in the "St Andrews Agreement" presented
Dublin and London governments in October, the DUP has continued to
cast doubt over political progress by raising the bar with new "tests"
for Sinn Fein.
Grassroots Sinn Fein supporters have grown increasingly restive as
dramatic concessions by the Sinn Fein leadership have continued to be
rebuffed. However, the move to accept the PSNI police and British
court system has proven too much for many republicans, crystallising
significant opposition to the current strategy.
The Adams/McGuinness leadership is understood to be reconsidering its
decision to hold a special party conference [Ard Fheis] by the end of
the month to formalise the policy changes.
The process has not been helped by the latest statements by the DUP,
including demands by party MP Gregory Campbell that Sinn Fein turn in
former members of the IRA in order to prove it has changed.
Mr Campbell said that Sinn Fein must work with the police to stamp out
When asked if he would call on Sinn Fein to report former IRA comrades
to the police, he replied: "That will be a part of our test for them
after the Ard Fheis, we have a series of things to put into practice to
test them to see if their support for policing means anything.
"They can't turn a blind eye on criminals because they are former
colleagues," he said.
Mr Campbell said that Sinn Fein must satisfy various tests, such as
handing over republicans involved in the bar-room stabbing of Belfast
man Robert McCartney in January 2005.
BLAIR PRAISES ADAMS
However, Tony Blair today hailed the Sinn Fein leadership, and urged
the DUP to believe its good faith.
"Sinn Fein has demonstrated one of the most remarkable examples of
leadership I have come across in modern politics," he wrote.
"It has been historic and it has been real.
"For republicans, whose experience of policing has been bitter and,
their eyes, deeply partisan, and who have spent a lifetime fighting it,
a move to support the PSNI and the criminal justice system is a move of
Mr Adams cautiously welcomed Blair's latest intervention.
"He is giving the DUP yet another chance. I think they need the little
bit of space required to respond in a positive way to what has been
outlined. There big issues to be faced here. Sinn Fein comes at this
positively. All these matters have to be sorted out and resolved."
Asked what was needed from the DUP, Mr Adams said earlier today that Mr
Paisley had to welcome and agree with Mr Blair's assessment.
"There are so many discordant voices coming out of the DUP at this
and republicans are listening to the very loud and negative and some
times quite hysterical voices from that party."
Speaking before Mr Paisley's response today, Mr Adams said "this
isn't about putting it up to
Ian Paisley or to any of the DUP. There is a collective process
involved here and let's all try to do our best to resolve all of these
Mr Adams said they were clearly difficulties on the unionist side.
"We need to look at that in a benign way even though many republicans
are very angry at the behaviour and the noises coming out of the DUP.
"Let's do our best and let's look ahead as we try to plot out the
Meanwhile, 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Mr Ahern, who admitted that he
has had no recent contact with Mr Paisley, also called on the DUP
leader to "speak clearly" and make it abundantly clear that
he has "no
more problems about moving to power-sharing".
Mr Ahern also confirmed he is also not speaking to Sinn Fein leader
Gerry Adams -- a fact that was the subject of sharp criticism
yesterday from Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness.
Speaking in Limerick, Mr McGuinness said Mr Ahern had only spoken to
Mr Adams "once in the last couple of months". This conversation
about, he said, only after he had complained directly to a Dublin
Mr Ahern acknowledged the efforts that were being made by Mr Adams and
Mr McGuinness to persuade Sinn Fein members of the need to support the
police and courts, but also to maintain a united organisation.
"It is a time for steady leadership. For Sinn Fein it is very
difficult what they are trying to do. It is the right thing to do."