Political parties in Northern Ireland are gearing up for September talks in England at Leeds Castle in an effort to restore the dissolved Northern Ireland Assembly. Arms decommissioning, policing, and demilitarization are again expected to top the agenda, and although there is little sign of where a breakthrough can be made, pre-talks overtures from the main parties – the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin – have been relatively positive.
Writing in the Irish Times, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams set a conciliatory tone. “I think political unionism uses the I.R.A. and the issue of I.R.A. arms as an excuse,” he suggested, adding, “I think Republicans need to be prepared to remove that as an excuse.”
In response, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson intimated his party would be prepared to work at execution with Sinn Féin on the sensitive issues of policing and justice. “Many people recognized the immense difficulty in reaching agreement when the two main parties representing the two sections of the community are the DUP and Sinn Féin,” he said. “Yet this reality is a fact of political life that cannot be wished away. Whatever path we seek to lay out must face this reality.
“At the present time I do not believe that nationalists would have sufficient confidence in a DUP policing and justice minister, and, as I see it, the unionist community would certainly not tolerate a Sinn Féin minister in that post.”
Paul Murphy, Northern Secretary, welcomed both contributions. “Some of the statements which have been made have been very encouraging, and the fact is, while there has been some difficulty over marches, it has certainly not been as bad as in the past.”
The language of both parties suggested to him “a seriousness among all parties coming to the table that they want to address all the issues and want devolution restored.”
The talks at Leeds are scheduled to begin on September 16. ♦