Government proposals aiming to break the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process were in parts “nothing short of shameful”, SDLP leader Mark Durkan claimed today.
He warned all political parties not to lose sight of the real issues at stake by focusing solely on the clash over photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning.
In Dublin to meet Irish party leaders, Mr Durkan was highly critical of the documents published by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last week.
“If you read these documents carefully you will see they are scrappy in parts,” he said.
“There are other parts in which they are shabby and there are provisions in these documents that are nothing short of shameful.”
As Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was forced to apologise to DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley for a verbal gaffe in which he appeared to concede that photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning, a key DUP demand, was not feasible, Mr Durkan insisted this was not the only stumbling block.
“There is a danger of all of us being caught up in a classic case of misdirection since last week, that we all think the story is about photographs,” he said.
“What we are saying is what’s wrong with a bit of transparency, a bit of accountability about this deal?”
Mr Durkan said his party was concerned about the actual content of the proposed deal.
He expressed anger that the DUP had successfully sought to secure changes to the Good Friday Agreement and that Sinn Féin, while going to great lengths to protect the IRA from humiliation, appeared to have no interest in protecting nationalist politicians from humiliation and new vetoes.
On a proposed new “exclusion clause” concerning voting for or against the executive, Mr Durkan said: “Anybody who doesn’t kiss their (the DUP and Sinn Féin) feet will now be excluded from office.
“The highest political offence there can now be in the new regime is to dissent from the DUP/Sinn Féin ticket. We will no longer be included on the basis of our own mandate.”
Mr Durkan will meet Mr Ahern this evening.
Mr Paisley spent half an hour in Downing Street this afternoon having talks with Mr Blair.
When he emerged, he said he would be back in Downing Street next week for a longer discussion.
He said: “All I can say is that Bertie Ahern has apologised. I await what he says tomorrow. If he repeats tomorrow in the Dail what he said to me personally, then the DUP will meet the Foreign Secretary of his Government tomorrow.
“I believe that the way forward is for the Government to keep their obligation to us. They put in their paper that there would have to be photographs and they have got to stand over that.”
Mr Paisley said: "If a party is not prepared to join the train as it moves out of the station because they have some objection, then they will have to stay on the platform.
“Everybody will have to move. And I impress on the Prime Minister that now is the time to say that it is going to be. And those that want it, will have it. And those that reject it, it is their rejection, no one is putting them out. They are putting themselves out.”
Mr Paisley said he was confident that both the Governments were still committed to the use of photographs as part of the deal.
“There is no turning back there,” he said.
Mr Paisley was asked when he would be speaking to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
He said: “I will not be speaking to Gerry Adams.
“If people have guns, if they are engaged in terrorism and criminal activities, I will not sit down with them. They are terrorists. If they give up their guns, if they cease their criminal activity, I will sit down with them, if they are elected with a proper franchise.
“Unfortunately the IRA are holding on to their guns.
“Therefore I do not sit down with Gerry Adams. That is the strength of my position.”
Mr Paisley was asked whether, instead of having photographic evidence of decommissioning, he would be satisfied if he was able to witness the decommissioning act.
He said: “No, no. The man in the street says ’for me seeing is believing’, and he must see it, and see it he will, by the grace of God.”