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N Ireland peace process is working: Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein is involved in talks with the Northern Ireland parties in an effort to re-establish the suspended power-sharing govt in Belfast.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 18:23 IST

The Northern Ireland peace process is working, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness told the party's annual conference on Friday in a keynote address that called for hardline unionist leader Ian Paisley to share power.

The mainly Catholic Sinn Fein is involved in talks with the Northern Ireland parties brokered by the Irish and British governments in an effort to re-establish the suspended power-sharing government in Belfast.

McGuinness said the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Paisley had to come to terms with the new realities.

"We are serious about engaging with unionism. We want to see Ian Paisley sharing power," he said, adding that if that didn't work, "then the two governments (Dublin and London) need to come in and make it clear that joint decision making is the only way forward."

"If he (Paisley) makes the wrong decision there is a huge responsibility on (prime ministers) Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair to make it clear that the DUP are not going to be allowed to prevent progress."

Despite all the difficulties, McGuinness said the peace process in the British province -- which Sinn Fein wants to see a part of the Irish republic -- was working.

"The political landscape of the north is transformed. The political landscape in the south is changing as we speak. We are going to bring about the change...we are going to bring about the re-unification of our country."

Over 1,000 party delegates from north and south of the Irish border will debate almost 500 motions at the party's three-day conference in Dublin's Royal Dublin Society hall.

The two main themes of the conference are unity and equality and the party will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of Ireland's 1916 Rising against British rule and the 25th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland when ten IRA men starved themselves to death in prison.

The motions deal with a range of issues such as all-Ireland integration, the peace process, an end to US military planes going to and from the Persian Gulf re-fuelling at Ireland's Shannon airport, an end to payments for fishing rights on Irish rivers owned by the "barons of the English realm" and nationalisation of Ireland's natural resources.

Caoimhghin O Caolain, leader of the five-strong group of Sinn Fein lawmakers in the Irish republic's 166-seat Dail (lower house of parliament), opened the conference by paying tribute to the party's Irish Republican Army (IRA) military wing for its decision to give up its paramilitary campaign and dump its weapons arsenals last year.

He said it was a "massive development" and a courageous and unprecedented "leap of faith" to advance the cause of peace.

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president and best-known figure, will make his keynote leader's speech on Saturday evening.

First Published: Feb 18, 2006 18:23 IST