Latest update: 28/12/2007
Sinn Fein: Unionists must join power-sharing
Sinn Fein maintained on Friday that unionists had no choice but to form power-sharing government. (Report: E. Irvine)
BELFAST, March 2, 2007 - It was a relatively quiet and late start to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis (party conference) in Dublin on Friday evening. With just days before elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, delegates were told that today was a time of great hope.
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, took aim at the party's longtime foe, unionist Ian Paisley, saying that his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has no option than to work with Sinn Fein and set up an assembly in Northern Ireland.
"I stand before you at a time of great hope," McGuinness said. "A time of great opportunity. A time when we have within our sights the prospect of an Ian Paisley who began with 'Never,' moved on to 'No,' then 'Maybe,' and now a possible, some say probable, 'Yes,' finally accepting his nationalist and republican neighbours as equals."
Paisley now has no where left to go, McGuinness said, adding that if the DUP fails to be part of the process of change, then the process will move on without them.
On Jan. 28 Sinn Fein made history by voting to accept the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), a multi-denominational force that replaces the Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sinn Fein's bitter enemy for decades.
It was a move that for some Republicans was a step too far, and the party has had members leave as a result, some dissidents now standing as independent candidates against Sinn Fein in the upcoming elections.
But the message from the party on Friday was that by accepting joint policing Sinn Fein has left the DUP with no option but to accept power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Paisley, however, has not said he is ready to share power with Sinn Fein by the deadline set by the governments of Ireland and the UK in March.
"Bread an butter" issues also came up at the Sinn Fein conference. The Republican party wants to see an all-Ireland economy - that is to say greater economic union with the booming Republic of Ireland, known as the Celtic Tiger.
The economy is an issue that is currently uniting both unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Political parties from both sides say that issues such as new water charges, health care and housing are the main concerns of most voters.
Voting will take place on March 7 to elect 108 Ministers of the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland. The British and Irish Governments are saying that it is the last chance for Northern Ireland to establish its own assembly. Failure to form power sharing by March 26th will lead to indefinite rule from London.