New impetus to peace process
by Steve Lawton A fresh impetus to the peace process was achieved when Sinn Fein held their first direct talks with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) — something Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has been requesting since 1997. Persistent UUP refusals to meet throughout the process leading to the Good Friday Agreement, has been the source of much division and delay. The shadow ministerial report to the Northern Ireland Assembly by First Minister David Trimble (UUP) and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon (Social Democratic & Labour Party) was broadly supported by Sinn Fein, but Gerry Adams pointed out certain areas of disagreement. Sinn Fein are particularly concerned that, among other things, the Equality Agenda — a key plank in their strategy — remains in the hands of the Ministers. Gerry Adams said it was a "negative step" that a separate department is not yet being set up. Ten government departments, the North-South Council, cross-border bodies, British-Irish Council and civic forum have so far been agreed. The big thorn created by the Unionists that continues to bedevil the process is over decommissioning (handover) of IRA weapons. The Sunday Times interview two weeks ago with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, in which he allegedly suggested that Sinn Fein should be excluded from the Executive until IRA decommissioning begins, is part of continuing attempts to stall the process. By the Monday Ahern was denying that he had said Sinn Fein should be "barred" and stated clearly that there could be no Executive without Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness graphically illustrated the absurdity of expecting the IRA to decommission under present circumstances, by displaying a grenade fragment to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly which he said had been used by loyalists in an attack upon nationalists in his constituency. He said: "The background to all of [the decommissioning arguments] is ongoing attacks by the Red Hand Defenders and Orange Volunteers." He said that loyalist hardware had been divided up between UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance — the latter associated with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The pressure, with the March 10 deadline date for transfer of powers from Westminster looming, is now on the British Government to follow through on the Assembly decisions and to resolve the decommissioning issue before, as Gerry Adams warned, the '87 peace process is put seriously at risk.
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