Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When is a deal not a deal?

In 2006 I travelled to Scotland to take part in negotiations aimed at bringing about agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin. The discussions lasted a number of days and the end product was the St. Andrews Agreement. This paved the way for the restoration of the Northern Institutions and in devolving power on policing and justice from Westminster to the assembly. A deal was done and all parties signed up including the DUP.

The deal was straightforward. As a pre-requisite to re-establishing the institutions Sinn Féin was to hold a special Ard Fhéis accepting policing in the North. This was done. Sinn Féin was to take its place on newly established policing boards. This was done. A timeframe for devolving policing and justice powers was to be set. This was done. However the timeframe has not been met. Indeed several agreed dates have come and gone.

There is an attempt by some to downplay or dismiss the importance of all of this. No devolved Government can properly function without having democratic control over policing and justice matters. The clandestine makeup of the Northern Ireland Office, MI5 and MI6 cannot continue to set the agenda. In short we must implement what it is we agreed.

The DUP are reneging on clear commitments. They are desperately trying to spin their way out of implementing the St. Andrews Agreement of which both Governments are co-signatures. The optics of the presence of both Government leaders is twisted to present an image of two parties who are unable to agree and who need paternal support. This is far from the truth. Sinn Féin implemented its side of the bargain within three months. Three years on and we are still waiting for the DUP to move. How much longer should we participate in a sham assembly- a month- a year – another three years? We have made the call and we are no longer willing to participate in a sham. The DUP must move and if they do so they will find very willing and able coalition partners.

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