Friday, February 5, 2010

Devolution deal welcomed by most

Devolution deal welcomed by most
Fri, Feb 05, 2010 - Irish Times

The deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin at Hillsborough Castle today has been welcomed as a new beginning for Northern Ireland by the majority of political parties.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described the agreement as “another important step toward a full and lasting peace”.

She applauded the parties for reaching an agreement and said Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have “displayed the kind of leadership that the people of Northern Ireland deserve”.

Mrs Clinton said: “This is not the end of the journey. So far, the devolution process has enabled Northern Ireland's leaders to enact a range of needed reforms, from health to housing to environmental safety.

“Now they have even greater authority, and with that authority comes greater responsibility. They must continue to lead.”

She promised assistance from the US saying the Economic Envoy, Declan Kelly, will "continue working to help Northern Ireland reap the dividends of peace, including economic growth, international investment, and new opportunities.“

British prime minister Gordon Brown described it as a “the last chapter of a long and troubled story and the beginning of a new chapter after decades of violence, years of talks, weeks of stalemate.”

He predicted that the settlement would help build a lasting peace and is an “essential step for peace stability and security in Northern Ireland”.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said it laid the foundations for a new future. “That better future must be built on mutual respect for people of different traditions, equality and tolerance and respect for each other’s political aspirations and cultural expressions and inheritance,” he said.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said although some “will play politics” with the agreement, “the real focus in the months to come must be on building an administration at Stormont that our whole community identifies with and supports.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that as an Irish republican he wanted to see a united Ireland but recognised that unionists preferred to maintain links with Britain.

He insisted both communities could and should live together in mutual respect. “We need to make life better for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “That is what this agreement must mean in practice.”

However, in an early sign of potential discord, the Ulster Unionist party earlier declined to attend the round table meeting with the two premiers. During the negotiations the party consistently complained that it had been kept in the dark.

Leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, Jim Allister described the agreement as a “sordid deal [that] guarantees more instability” and a “bad and humiliating staging post deal for unionism”. He accused the DUP of capitulating to Sinn Féin demands and said the DUP had got nothing in return.

Just like the promise on policing and justice in the St Andrew's Agreement was a ticking time-bomb for Unionism, so the undertakings on the Irish Language and north/southery will be the new smouldering opportunity for fresh blackmail, the next time Sinn Féin needs to gorge on DUP concessions at its next staging post,” Mr Allister said.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the deal has averted the prospect of a prolonged period of instability and uncertainty. “The challenge now of the parties is to work together to deliver on the implementing the remaining elements of the Good Friday Agreement so that the people of Northern Ireland can be convinced that the political process can deliver real improvements to their lives.”

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said he hoped the agreement will now lead to a period of greater political stability and certainty in Northern Ireland. “The Good Friday Agreement set out ‘mutual respect’ as the basis for relationships in Northern Ireland and if Northern Ireland is to continue to move forward there is a need for all parties to reaffirm commitment to this principle," he said.

The Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady "warmly" welcomed the deal. “Respectful dialogue and a willingness to treat each other with dignity and respect have been shown time and time again to be the most effective way of resolving the issues which challenge our society," he said.

Church of Ireland Primate of All-Ireland, Reverend Alan Harper said the commitment of the political parties to bring the talks to a “fruitful conclusion is to be praised and welcomed”.

He said the fact that parading and Irish language issues also featured in the deal should be seen as “offering additional confidence to both traditions in our society”.

Comment:

While this or any agreement between the parties should, by all means, be welcomed by anybody with an interest in the future of the North of Ireland, it should also be viewed as a first step in a long process. I think that most people who are in any way familiar with the past history of the Stormont government would hope that implementation of this agreement will be successful. However, at this early stage, a more realistic approach to success would be for the parties to move forward with cautious optimism. In the meantime, congratulations are due to all participants in the negotiations that resulted in the agreement.

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