Category: Archive

Impasse remains despite glimmer of hope for dealBy Anne Cadwallader

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

BELFAST — The number of cross-border bodies and departments to be set up under the proposed new Northern assembly, as well as the stubborn issue of decommissioning, remain as obstacles to progress in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Talks were continuing in Belfast late Monday night as parties struggled to break an impasse over the creation of the North-South bodies and assembly ministerial departments. As the Echo went to press, no definite agreement was reported, but a spokesman for First Minister designate David Trimble said it was hoped that a solution would be worked out before Christmas, and possibly by the end of this week.

Irish government officials traveled to Belfast for a fresh round of negotiations, particularly in relation to the proposed North-South implementation bodies.

The main unresolved issue concerned the number of implementation bodies that should be established; Unionists were insisting that six was sufficient at this point, but nationalist parties are arguing for eight.

Ulster Unionist Party Deputy Leader John Taylor said the prospects of agreeing new departments and North-South structures were "50-50". On Monday night, however, he had revised that figure to a more optimistic "60 per cent".


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Meanwhile, the issue of decommissioning remains an obstacle. Late Monday night, a 10-minute meeting took place between Trimble and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, but there was no progress on the decommissioning issue.

Taylor earlier insisted that Sinn Féin could take up ministerial positions only after the IRA had begun disarming.

"If Sinn Féin-IRA want to get involved in the political process, if they want the right to serve in the Northern Ireland executive, the ball is now in their court," he added.

But Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin’s senior negotiator, accused the UUP of being controlled by the "Paisleyite rejectionists." He said he did not want to concentrate on a "doom and gloom agenda." He wanted a positive approach but that must involve unionism fully implementing the Belfast Agreement.

McGuinness made clear that as far as he was concerned, IRA decommissioning was not a precondition to Sinn Féin’s entry to an executive.

"The IRA have absolutely nothing to do with this. The IRA was not involved in signing up to the Good Friday agreement. I was, Gerry Adams was, David Trimble was. We all gave our word and we all gave our word to implement that agreement as a matter of urgency," McGuinness added.

Marches and trouble

Also raising concern are plans for a major Orangemen’s march next weekend in Portadown. The Orangemen have pledged to walk down the Garvaghy Road before the end of the year. It’s understood that the Order plans a Christmas stand-off at Drumcree, to make good their pledge to eat their festive turkey at the church if they are not allowed to proceed through the mainly Catholic area.

Talks were due to get under way mid-week between the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange Order, chaired by Tony Blair’s personal secretary, Jonathan Powell.

On Saturday, there was trouble at an Apprentice Boys rally in Derry with a stand-off between the RUC and both loyalist and nationalist youths, and several vehicles hi-jacked and petrol bombs thrown.

The trouble started, according to Donncha Mac Niallis of the Bogside Residents Group, after loyalist bands upped the tempo of their music as they passed the Cenotaph. Two bottles were thrown and the RUC moved in.

Then one band stopped playing, put its instruments on the ground and tackled the crowd, he said. The RUC baton-charged nationalist youths down one street and loyalists down another.

Sectarian attacks on Catholic houses in the Greencastle area of north Belfast continued this week with an arson attack on a Catholic woman’s house. Petrol was poured through the letterbox of the house in Greymount Road, setting the door and carpet on fire.

Many houses in the same area are barricaded with grilles on windows and metal on doors after over a year of sectarian attacks, thought to be launched from the nearby loyalist Rathcoole estate.

Meanwhile, Catholic bishops in the North have urged a change of name for the RUC and a minimum 45 percent Catholic membership of the force as part of a package of urgent and radical measures to make the force neutral and acceptable to the community.

Splinter group meetings

Furthermore, speculation continued that dissidents from the Continuity IRA, Real IRA and INLA were coalescing in plans for a pre-Christmas bombing campaign in Northern Ireland. This has led to a stronger garda presence on the border as a pre-emptive measure.

Continuity IRA members, however, say that although informal meetings have been taking place, no formal agreement has been made to form a new group or take joint action.

RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan said individual members of the IRA, especially in the western counties of the North, had either gone dormant or drifted towards the Continuity IRA.

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