Good Friday review underway

The British and Irish Governments meet today with Northern Ireland’s political parties to review the progress made by the six-year old Good Friday Agreement.

The first official meeting will take place today in the Long Gallery at Stormont.

Paul Murphy and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen will co-chair the talks.

Power sharing at Stormont was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations that the IRA was running a spy ring inside the government.

The Democratic Unionist Party led by vocal critic Dr Ian Paisley may press London and Dublin for a radical overhaul of the accord, a request the Government is likely to decline.

The DUP leapfrogged David Trimble’s UUP as the dominant voice of unionism in Northern Ireland during recent assembly elections.

Optimistically, the meeting has some historic bearing as the DUP has agreed to formally sit with Sinn Fein today.

Hitherto, the DUP has refused to countenance such a predicament. as it claims Sinn Fein remains closely tied to Catholic paramilitarism.

DUP leaders say they will read out their opening remarks today to other politicians but will not enter into negotiations.

Mitchell Weiss, the new American envoy for Northern Ireland, yesterday said violence by the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups “robs the people of Northern Ireland of their future.’

Meanwhile, Peter Robinson, DUP deputy leader, said the talks afforded the opportunity
to make “constructive change.”

“Let there be no mistake, change must occur. The Belfast Agreement arrangements did not provide stable, accountable, efficient or effective self-government.

“Change is, therefore, the only viable alternative. Unionists will not accept more of the same. They have shown via the ballot box that they will not accept the same system at Stormont. Unionists want a fair deal that they can support.

“Nationalists need to acknowledge that change is inevitable. Otherwise, the choice is stark. It is a new agreement or no agreement. The Belfast Agreement has failed, and the unionist electorate have voted it off the table.”

Elsewhere, Mr Robinson said, unlike the UUP, his party would not “budge” from its electoral pledges. “Not only will Sinn Fein not be given entry to an executive before decommissioning all its weapons but all the other paraphernalia of terrorism will have to go as well. The DUP will not share power with terrorist representatives.”

He called on Westminster to make it clear today to Sinn Fein/IRA there will be no more “pandering” to paramilitaries.

Seemingly at odds with the Mr Robinson’s interpretation of proceedings, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern predicted yesterday the DUP would not use stalling or delaying tactics in the review of the accord.

Mr Ahern said: “Contrary to expectations the DUP is not going to do what many people thought they would to have a delaying tactic, a slow process.

“I think they have decided that they should engage actively and progressively and try to move things on.

“Of course, that doesn’t remove the difficulties. There are still a number of substantial difficulties but I think the fact that the parties are going to engage, looking at moving short term rather than long term is very useful and I think it is around that that the DUP proposals will be about,” he said.