- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

DUBLIN — A deal between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party is falling behind schedule, but it still offers hope for a permanent solution to the “troubles” in Northern Ireland.

The St. Andrew’s Agreement, concluded last month in Scotland, provides for a power-sharing home-rule government in Belfast and has wide support from both the pro-Irish Catholics, represented by Sinn Fein, and the pro-British Protestants, represented by the DUP.

The Unionists, however, are refusing to go forward without a firm commitment from Sinn Fein to support and respect the Police Service of Northern Ireland — a bitter pill for the party to swallow after decades of distrust during struggles between the police and Sinn Fein’s allies in the Irish Republican Army.

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Sinn Fein is to hold a special party conference to decide the issue, the final hurdle to the restoration of the home-rule government established at Stormont in 1999 and suspended by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2002. A source close to Sinn Fein said that the most likely date for the conference would be in January.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams indicated during a fundraising event in New York last week that his party would seek some assurances in exchange for the concession. “We are determined to ensure that all elements in policing are accountable. That is the focus of our negotiations with the British government at this time,” he said.

Mr. Adam’s comments came just days after a human rights group headed by Notre Dame Law School professor Doug Cassel concluded that Northern Ireland police and the British Army were involved in the slayings of 74 Catholics between 1972 and 1977. Mr. Cassel called on the British government to apologize to the families of the victims.

The DUP, for its part, says Sinn Fein’s delay in stating its support for the police and the courts has had “clear, adverse implications for the timetable laid out in the St. Andrew’s Agreement.”

Both parties had been expected to endorse the agreement by last weekend and to make a firm commitment to power sharing — along with their nominations for the posts of first minister and deputy first minister — by Nov. 24.

It now appears that the Nov. 24 deadline will not be met, but if Sinn Fein needs more time it will certainly get it. As one Irish politician stated, “The prize is too big.”

If the policing issue can be settled, it is expected that elections to the new executive will take place in March.

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