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3 October 2006

DUP plays long and cautious game

A final Northern Ireland peace agreement won't be rushed for two Prime Ministers in a hurry, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

To the accompaniment of the usual rhetoric about seismic shifts and historic developments, as well as mighty yawns from most of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, the British and Irish Prime Ministers have ecstatically welcomed the assessment of the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) - the body that monitors the activities of the province's paramilitaries - that the IRA has dismantled most of its war machine. the IRA continues to maintain an intimidating presence in Republican ghettoes.

Yet there is no denying that the IRA still exists, that many of its members are active criminals, that it is still awash with stolen money (including the proceeds of the £26m Northern Bank robbery in December 2004), that it continues to protect the murderers of Robert McCartney, and that it maintains an intimidating presence in Republican ghettoes.

Tony Blair is on his way out of politics and Bertie Ahern faces an election next year, so both are desperate to see their nine years of negotiations crowned with a final settlement. On October 11, in a Scottish hotel, they will try to persuade the Reverend Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, will make cosy ministerial partners. Sternly, they will repeat their threat to disband the Assembly if a power-sharing Executive is not in operation by November 24.

The central problem is that while Sinn Fein refuses to endorse the police service unless control over policing is devolved to a power-sharing Executive, the DUP insists that Republicans must be seen to support the rule of law before there can be any question of them being in government.

Having seen David Trimble and his Ulster Unionist Party destroyed electorally because they followed Blair’s advice "to take risks for peace", the DUP is playing as long and cautious a game as Sinn Fein. The Prime Ministers are likely to be disappointed.

FIRST POSTED OCTOBER 3, 2006

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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