Reviewed— Not Rewritten

The review of the Belfast Agreement (1998) has begun, and two days a week have been set aside until Easter, six years almost to the day when it was accepted by the parties, with the exception of the DUP which had excluded itself from the negotiations as did Jeffrey Donaldson MP of the Ulster Unionists.
On Monday February 2nd, the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme interviewed Ian Paisley MP, the Chairman of Sinn Féin Mitchell McLoughlin and Secretary of State Paul Murphy MP, in respect of the review and issues surrounding it.

The DUP leader said that he wanted a new agreement which would ensure that executive power could not be exercised by anyone who had not repudiated, or was involved in or associated with violence. In short, he wanted Sinn Féin to be excluded from such participation.

Responding to presenter Jim Naughtie Paisley accepted that his party served on local government committees across Northern Ireland but he was opposed to serving with Sinn Féin in a power sharing executive local government did not have such power. He said, however, that it might be worth considering operating the Assembly through a committee system instead of an executive or cabinet system.

Mitchell McLoughlin of Sinn Féin also drew attention to the cooperation between themselves and the DUP in local government in 24 of the 26 local councils in Northern Ireland.

However he made clear that review discussions should revolve around questions of how devolved government might operate. The Assembly had been elected under the terms of the Agreement. The review was taking place within those terms and therefore could not be synonymous with a renegotiation of the Agreement itself, which was what the DUP wanted.

Parties had been mandated on the basis of their attitude to the Agreement. Pro Agreement candidates elected represented 70% support and although the DUP was the largest Unionist party Sinn Fin was that in the Nationalist community. The 30% of the Antis could not be allowed to decide the fate of the Agreement.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy in his interview stated that the views of the DUP and Sinn Féin were still those they had expressed prior to and subsequent to last year’s Assembly election.

Those taking part in the review all clearly wanted a return to devolved government and the idea of working via committees could be considered. But the parties had their mandates, though he didn’t envisage a new agreement for it had been endorsed by referendum, in both jurisdictions, by substantial majorities.

The DUP and Sinn Féin, he agreed, had worked together in Assembly committees, as they had also done in local councils, and his experience in Northern Ireland had taught him that the unexpected could happen, indeed the Agreement itdelf showed that. By easter he hoped some progress might be achieved. in a later broadcast interview after the review had started he said that a positive attitude was present.

My own wry comment is that although we can all hope that the stonefaced opposition from the DUPes might be rolled away from the Cave of Reality and the Agreement resurrected from the clutches of the fundamentalist troglodytes of Unionism. I'm not holding my breath.

Imperfect as it is (although I still prefer my own proposals to the Opsahl Commission in 1992) the Agreement in substantive form should remain. Only changes to its internal voting procedures should be considered, leaving the content and parity of esteem and participation undisturbed.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, 6 February 2004.

Samuel H. Boyd