Category: Archive

Breakthrough imminent?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Following five hours of talks at the British prime minister’s office in London on Monday involving Prime Minister Tony Blair, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, as well as the U.S. special envoy to Ireland, Richard Haass, Unionists were reported as claiming that “negotiations have moved substantially beyond” the point reached last April, when an attempt to persuade the IRA to commit to an “act of completion” failed and the British postponed the poll.
The fact that Blair now feels close to declaring a poll date is a sign that the Sinn Fein has been able to convince the other parties that the IRA is prepared to cease all paramilitary activity, meeting a demand contained in Paragraph 13 of last spring’s Joint Declaration of the British and Irish governments that it had shied away from last April. In effect, it would mean the disbandment of the IRA after more than 80 years of activity.
Remarkably, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, the largest party in the suspended assembly, was not invited to attend the crucial talks on Monday. This has provoked an embarrassing controversy, with both governments being accused of taking the SDLP for granted. SDLP Assembly member Alban Maginness told the BBC it was a “huge mistake” not to invite his party.
Interparty talks resumed on Tuesday in Belfast.
The deadline passes this week for an election to be held Nov. 13. The next available date would be Nov. 27, though Nov. 18 has also been suggested.
Elections normally take place during the spring or summer, and the parties feel that the closer to Christmas, the less likely people are likely to turn out to vote. However, there were some cautionary notes struck. The Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, told reporters as he left the talks in London on Monday that success was not guaranteed, although he hoped the parties would get there. He has repeatedly opposed elections if no deal has been reached with the IRA on ending its activities and decommissioning.
“We need to see that there is going to be decommissioning of weapons, an end to paramilitary activity and people being committed to working the institutions in the spirit of the agreement”, he said.
Trimble has appealed to the Independent International Commission on Decommission to publish an inventory of all the weapons the IRA has so far put “beyond use” and of any future similar actions.
A Sinn Fein source was adamant that elections must be held soon.
“If we go into this election without a deal, the various strands of unionism will use the campaign to beat their chests and claim to be the toughest when dealing with republicans”, the source said. “We need a strong pro-agreement Unionist leadership after polling day.”
Leaving the meeting in London, Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, predicted that elections would go ahead anyway but said it would be better to get an agreement before the campaign began.
“There was certainly a series of positive engagements,” Adams said. “The reality is that there are going to be elections and all of us have a duty to try to ensure that those parties which have a mandate return working institutions.”
It would be better, he said, to “get rid of as many of the outstanding issues now, before an election, so that those elections can take place in the best atmosphere, as opposed to having to do so after the elections.”
The discussions had covered issues such as devolving policing and justice, the human rights agenda, the equality agenda and demilitarization. All of those were as yet “incomplete,” said Adams.
Asked about decommissioning, Adams said: “The issue of arms is a matter for the armed groups. The issue of creating conditions in which arms can be put beyond use is a matter for all the parties.”
Blair said, “The aim is very clear: to try and make sure that we hold democratic elections in Northern Ireland in a positive and constructive atmosphere.”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned that time is short.
“We want to see elections held . . . allowing for the institutions to work as we originally envisaged,” he said. “The atmosphere of all of the parties has been to try to achieve that.”
The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, is on record demanding elections, even in the absence of an agreement between Sinn F

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