High on the agenda was a discussion on the possibility of attaining progress towards a long term peace settlement in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy MP, gave the keynote speech on the 18th October.
Following his speech there was a question and answer session on the current negotiations between the Northern Ireland parties regarding the chances of a resumption of their Assembly and a return to devolved government.
Although I have seen no reports or documents dealing with it in the media, had there been a breakthrough been achieved in those negotiations it would certainly have been blazoned in all sectors of the press, radio and television.
No direct contacts between the political parties have taken place; both British and Irish government officials met the different groups separately, conveying particularly the views of the DUP, the largest Unionist party to Sinn Féin, the largest Nationalist party.
Subsequent to that meeting in Chepstow the only official statement from Blair and Murphy was that there must be a cessation of paramilitary activities before a settlement would be possible.
Recently the commission monitoring paramilitary activity issued a report that although there had been a reduction in incidents the organisations were still in existence and that Loyalist involvement was at a much higher level than that among Republicans.
In an interview on RTÉ Radio One on Sunday November 7th Martin McGuinness, the senior negotiator for Sinn Féin, said that though he could not speak for the IRA, he understood that both governments were aware that a very significant offer had been made to them, Sinn Féin, on decommissioning plus a definitive statement, and he regretted that the DUP were still not accepting its validity or reliability.
From what he said it appears that the political discussions were fast running into the sand. It was now up to the two governments to examine the position, but they should remember that the April 10th 1998 Agreement was an international treaty and there must be no departure from power sharing and the cross border institutions set up under it.
One can only conclude that since Ian Paisley, back from his illness, resumed command of the DUP, that old slogan, ‘No Surrender!’ is still his battle cry.
The DUP seem determined not to accept the thrust of the Agreement and continue their opposition to it, having refused to participate in the negotiations for it in the spring of 1998.
Their opposition has strengthened since since the holding of a Westminster general election is now almost certain shortly after the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Agreement.
I have noticed a subtle change in the wording of statements: the ‘peace process’ is now referred to as the ‘political process’. We can only hope that although discussions are almost at an end peace, of a sort, will remain.
The DUP have been fillibustering for years. It is high time they stopped. If they persist and they achieve a permanent dissolution of the Assembly we will have condominium government and they will have no input to its functioning and deserve their exclusion.
I am reminded of a quotation used by my elder brother, Tom (now deceased) in the old Stormont Parliament on 29th January 1969. It came from a letter written by Earl Cornwallis, the architect of the Act of Union which came into effect on January 1st 1801 and should be found apt in respect of certain political groups: “My occupation is now of the most unpleasant nature, negotiating and jobbing with the most corrupt people under heaven. I despise and hate myself for engaging in such dirty work.”
If progress is to be made in the ‘political’ process before Christmas, or indeed before the Westminster general election and the seventh anniversary of the Good Friday accord the other political groups should use their mature intelligence and come to an agreement to circumvent the DUP’s shenanigans and exclude them entirely.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, South Wales, 8 November 2004.