Paul Donovan reports on a fringe meeting at the recent British Trade Union Congress that shows that that the DUP contiues to dismiss the 24th November deadline for reaching agreement on reviving the devolved assembly and the Good Friday process
THE DEMOCRATIC Unionists Party continues to dismiss the 24 November date set by the British and Irish governments to get the peace process up and running again as "another arbitrary deadline."
Addressing a Communication Workers Union sponsored fringe meeting at the recent TUC Congress, held in Brighton, David Simpson, DUP MP for Upper Bann, said: that "with more talks planned and another arbitrary deadline looming you can understand why people feel a bit downcast."
Failure to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and institutions of the Good Friday agreement by 24 November will see the British and Irish governments move to a form of joint administration of the north. The 108 Members of the Northern Ireland assembly will also have their salaries discontinued as of that date.
The various parties have been meeting over the summer in the Preparation for Government Committee to try and resolve their differences and a round of intensive talks is planned to take place in Scotland in early October.
Mr Simpson praised the progress made by the IRA but claimed "substantial issues remained unresolved."
The DUP MP claimed that "the IRA's illegal command structure remains in place" and that "it is not the inclination of Sinn Fein/IRA to live in peace beside others in the community abiding by the rule of law."
Mr Simpson was critical of Sinn Fein for its continued failure to take up a place on the policing board. He accused the republicans of encouraging people not to co-operate with the police on criminal investigations such as rape and murder.
Speaking at the same meeting, secretary of state for Northern Ireland Peter Hain rejected Simpson's intransigence saying "things could not continue as they are, there has to be closure."
"People in Northern Ireland need to know that elected politicians will do the jobs they were elected to do. There is a tremendous opportunity here for the parties to come together and there is no reason not to do the job," said Mr Hain.
Mr Hain urged the politicians to seize the moment. "There is a fantastic future for Northern Ireland that can be delivered if we get devolved government up and running. It will be the Northern Ireland politicians who lose out if we go on governing. I hope they grasp the opportunity to move forward together," said Mr Hain.
Social Democratic and Labour Party Member of the Northern Ireland assembly Dolores Kelly suggested that it could suit the DUP and Sinn Fein for the 24 November deadline to pass with the two governments taking over much of the running of the north with the seven newly created super councils giving them power at local level.
Sinn Fein and the DUP are likely to control three councils each with one operating without a clear majority.
She criticised the DUP for insisting the IRA had not given up on criminal activity and Sinn Fein for failing to take a part in the policing authority.
Mrs Kelly challenged both of the main parties to step up to the mark. "The DUP must know it cannot turn the clock back on change," said Mrs Kelly. "There is a chance to get all the North's politicians working together and with the south."
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness admitted to his part in the past conflict. "I am one of those who did stand up and fight and I am not ashamed to say I did it," said McGuinness.
Mr McGuinness confirmed that in a recent meeting with Gordon Brown the Chancellor confirmed that he "wholeheartedly and fulsomely made clear his determination to see the GFA implemented."
Mr McGuinness indicated that Sinn Fein's problems over policing could be overcome especially now that it had been agreed policing powers would become the responsibility of the devolved government. "The most difficult issue to resolve is not policing but whether Ian Paisley is prepared to recognise and take his role as First Minister in the north. We can then get rid of the (British) ministers prepared to impose high rates and water charges," said Mr McGuinness.
Ulster Unionist Party representative Rodney McCune declared his own "absence of interest in the restoration of the institutions and the assembly." He also suggested that deadlines in Northern Ireland come and go and are rarely adhered to. "If time is not called there will always be people prepared to indulge," said Mr McCune
Mr McCune who called on the major British based parties like the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties to organise in Northern Ireland (the Conservatives do organise but have no elected representatives). "The absence of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats organising means even if government is devolved, people in the north won't be able to contribute on non-devolved issues," said Mr McCune.
This was in marked contrast to their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, said Mr McCune.
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Copyright © 2006 Paul Donovan