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Demand to 'feather-bed' SF no more

(William Graham, Irish News)

From now on the SDLP must not be prepared to feather-bed Sinn Féin's opportunities while they run around politically "cutting our throats after dark", Dr Alasdair McDonnell said at the weekend.

In an emotional speech during the political affairs debate, Dr McDonnell said he felt let down by Sinn Féin because the SDLP had gone to great extremes to accommodate the party.

Dr McDonnell said the agreement was not supposed to be an east-west bet with democracy as Sinn Féin was supposed to come in and sign up.

"There was supposed to be a serious commitment. And there is a suspicion now that this was only a tactic on their part until such times as they gained advantage and they could walk away and steal whatever advantages that had been gained," he said.

"There is a whole plethora of breaches of faith. We didn't sign up to have Sinn Féin or the Provos stealing our correspondence.

"The loyalist violence is nasty. The unionist prevarication is difficult and trying. But the real crunch here is that Sinn Féin let us down and they have lied their way around every corner since October 4 trying to pretend they are not. The SDLP has lay down, rolled over and created every opportunity for them. We must face up to the fact that they have let us down and we must nail that from now on. From here on, seriously, we must not be feather-bedding Sinn Féin while they run around cutting our throats after dark," Dr McDonnell said.

The SDLP, at its annual conference in Armagh, passed an emergency motion calling on the British and Irish governments to continue to implement the Good Friday Agreement in every way that falls to them, including the British-Irish inter-governmental conference.

The party called on both governments to urgently initiate inclusive talks to address all the issues of confidence and of implementation. It also called on the British government to fulfil faithfully and quickly its commitments to amend the Police Act and on the Irish government to reconvene the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

In addition, the SDLP called on all parties to demonstrate unequivocally their commitment to full implementation and for an end to paramilitarism in all its aspects.

The debate was introduced by Sean Farren who said that the people of Ireland had voted for more than decommissioning and the political institutions.

"They voted for a different future and the SDLP needs to show the agreement belongs to everybody," Dr Farren said.

He said that the hallmark of devolution was that, as local ministers, they were in a position to respond to local problems with local solutions.

"That is the business we were in and I profoundly believe that the people of Northern Ireland are now worse off for the lack of local accountability," he said.

Margaret Ritchie suggested that the SDLP needed to monitor the work of the current direct rule ministers.

"We have to act as enforcers and ensure that Northern Ireland is not governed by civil servants and the civil servant mandarins who are motivated by the Bermuda triangle and amnesia syndrome from policy and issues. We have to ensure that the programme for government and budget are implemented in full and hold the direct rulers to account," she said.

Michael Molloy warned that the north was now drowning in a swamp of paramilitarism.

"The paramilitary organisations, both loyalist and republican, can switch on and off their violence in response to political failures and no longer have an exclusively political agenda. Instead they nurture a culture of criminality," he said.

David Thompson said the assembly had been on and off again but they had one of the most inclusive legislative systems in the world.

'We have (devolved) representation at Stormont and it is a considerably fairer institution than Westminster or even Congress," he said.

Denis Haughey said both unionist parties should be made to realise, by the British government, that there was going to be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement and that partnership was here to stay.

He also called on the British government to show more determination in dealing with the violence of loyalist paramilitaries, which was the main source of violence at the interface areas.

Mr Haughey said the parameters of democratic activity should be set down to deal with the whole problem of paramilitarism (republican and loyalist).

Margaret Walsh said every effort should be made to get the assembly up and running again.

Joe Byrne said political parties in the north had no right to have a selective attitude as to how to work the institutions – "as you can't have a take away attitude".

Alban Maginness said he believed suspension could and would be lifted.

"The agreement is not dead. Let us not turn this situation into a wake. The suspension will end sooner than we think. There is a need among all the parties for the institutions under the agreement to be reinstated," he said.

Deputy leader Brid Rodgers said they were "not in a major crisis... but just in another breakdown".

The problem was not the Good Friday Agreement or power-sharing, or the north-south council, or the new beginning in policing, but a problem of "fudge and the uncertainty and the disillusionment" of not only the pro-agreement unionists but also large numbers of nationalists at the failure to implement the agreement fully.

Irish Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said that if the momentum was to be restored, a clear and unconditional statement was required from the republican movement of its absolute and unequivocal commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means of advancing their political objectives.

"There is also a need for consistency in the approach of the Ulster Unionist Party to terrorist organisations and their political wings," he said.

November 5, 2002

This article appeared first in the November 4, 2002 edition of the Irish News.

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