Former SDLP leader John Hume last night (Monday) welcomed the historic meeting between Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, but said he regretted it did not take place 30 years ago.
Mr Hume (70) was minister for commerce in the north's first attempt at power-sharing government in 1974, which collapsed amid opposition from Mr Paisley and large-scale loyalist protests as well as ongoing IRA violence.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner said he was pleased that Sinn Féin and the DUP have now met face-to-face and are intent on forming a devolved executive.
But he expressed regret that much of the "terrible pain" of the Troubles could have been avoided if the two parties had agreed to power sharing in the 1970s.
"Given, for the first time in history, the people of Ireland as a whole have actually spoken as to how they wish to live together by overwhelmingly voting for the Good Friday Agreement, north and south, it is the duty of all true democrats to implement the will of the people by implementing all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement," he said.
"It is about time that these two parties did so. It should be clear that what they (Sinn Féin and the DUP) are doing is implementing the policies which have been consistently pursued by the SDLP."
Mr Hume said his party was prominent in 1973 in negotiating the Sunningdale Agreement that led to power sharing, which he said was opposed by both Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists.
"During the 33 years since, the SDLP's policies did not change as it was our view that the problem hadn't changed.
"The Good Friday Agreement, again heavily negotiated by the SDLP, is identical to Sunningdale."
He added: "...In short, what I am really saying is if they had shown the commitment to
Sunningdale that they are now showing to the Good Friday Agreement, we would have made enormous progress by now and, of course, we would have avoided the terrible pain of the last 30 years."