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Haass accuses Unionists of failing to ‘sell’ agreement

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Unionist leader David Trimble’s plan to try to expel Sinn FTin from the Northern Ireland Executive this week will not find support in the Bush administration.

In a detailed interview on the peace process, the Bush administration’s Irish policy expert has made it clear that claims of senior IRA leaders sanctioning terrorist efforts in Colombia was not credible enough to warrant specific action against Sinn FTin.

Instead, the administration believes that the failure of Unionist leaders to publicly support the Good Friday agreement was a leading cause for Northern Ireland’s current climate of instability.

Ambassador Richard Haass, the administration’s point man for the peace process, also indicated in a press briefing last week that hard-line Unionist concerns over supposed IRA and Colombian guerrilla collusion were misguided and he adamantly stated that the U.S. believed the IRA cease-fire remains in place.

“Among Unionists, support for the Good Friday agreement is at something of a low ebb in part due to events on the ground, but also I believe due to a failure of Unionist leadership to sell the benefits of the GFA,” Haass told reporters at a late afternoon briefing at the State Department on Thursday.

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Haass also said that he was following the investigation of Sinn FTin members being held in Colombia on charges of helping the FARC rebels improve their terrorist techniques, but “only from a distance.”

“My emphasis is on the present and the future,” Haass said, adding that he would not question Sinn FTin’s “decision-making process in the past” on the Colombian situation.

Officials here said this week they expect a Colombian judge to commence with the trial against Martin McCauley, James Monaghan, and Niall Connolly in the second week of September.

However, concern in Washington over that trial is eclipsed by concern over the falling off of support by Protestants for the peace process, Haass said.

“I am not going to mention any names, but I do think it’s because a lot of the debate on the Unionist side is negative,” he said.

One way to stop any further erosion of the underpinnings of the Good Friday accord is to draw leaders away from the day-to-day, on-the-ground tensions, Haass added.

He indicated that top-level U.S. political support would be offered to participants from Ireland and Northern Ireland in the Ireland/U.S. business summit, scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., Sept. 4-6.

Most of the pro-agreement parties are expected to send representatives to the summit. Irish officials said no decision has been made to whether Taosieach Bertie Ahern would attend.

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