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Statement by Mark Durkan at SDLP Press Conference in Belfast, (8 December 2004)

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Text: Mark Durkan ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Statement by Mark Durkan, then leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP), at an SDLP Press Conference, Belfast, (8 December 2004)


"We have received the Governments proposals and we will be studying them in detail this evening and tomorrow, so that we can appreciate in full what is and what is not in them. We were told that this would be a comprehensive agreement but it does not seem to add up to a comprehensive package.

We want to recognise any positive moves forward contained in these papers. On paper, the DUP are ready to sign up to fundamental aspects of the Agreement that they have previously held back on, power sharing, working North South institutions and some equality provisions. Sinn Fein and the IRA also seem to move forward on things that they have held back on – the IRA complete decommissioning and ending all paramilitary activity and Sinn Fein finally signing on for the new beginning to policing. We are keen to welcome these commitments given on paper if they can be turned into substantive progress.

But this deal remains less comprehensive than some are making out. A lot of assumptions are built into its texts. We can see the potential messing room that is provided on a number of issues. Previous form in this process suggests that messing is what happens in any space created for it. We are also perturbed that yet again the Good Friday Agreement’s promise to victims and survivors is unaddressed. Victims will be hurt that Governments and parties appear to have no room or time for them in a supposedly comprehensive agreement.

As we face the debacle of todays events and the mutual recriminations that have begun, the SDLP do not want to say or do anything that will add to that damage or that will take away from the packages positive aspects. We do not want fall out from today to release the DUP, Sinn Fein or the IRA from commitments expressed in these documents. But yet again we have had so much spin and hype surrounding these negotiations, canvassed as being the ‘deal to end all deals’, only for it to fall over a clear and simple issue. Questions can be asked of all four of the key interests in this process – the two Governments, Sinn Fein, and the DUP. Whatever the answer might be, there is a responsibility on all of us to take things forward. Rather than ‘another fine mess’ we want to take this as another near miss and work to get things over the line.

The SDLP wants to make the most of any remaining opportunities but when we look at the document in more detail we have the right to express our concerns and stand by our principles. We have the right to oppose any legislation which involves changes to the Good Friday Agreement. But our main, underlying concern remains ensuring that the Agreement’s institutions are restored, up and running, and working in the way that they are meant to, as mandated by the people.


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