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Martin McGuinness blames brinkmanship of DUP for Stormont stalemate

By Noel McAdam

Martin McGuinness has pointedly blamed the London and Dublin governments for "facilitating political inertia" in Northern Ireland

The deputy first minister also insisted the United States administration must reassert its influence in the political process here.

But in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the Provisional IRA's ceasefire, he emphasised unionists need to "reach out" to both republican and nationalist traditions.

The deputy first minister's remarks strongly echoed comments by the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams several weeks ago, who warned politics in the province is facing its greatest challenge since the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McGuinness (right) pointed out that his power-sharing partners the DUP have threatened the Stormont institutions three times over recent months "if they do not get their own way."

The first was over the On the Runs controversy and 'letters of comfort' provided to former paramilitaries, then over the Parades Commission's restriction of the July 12 Orange Parade on the Crumlin Road and, finally, over the welfare reforms stalemate.

"But the real threat to the political institutions is stagnation and the absence of progress," he said – and the retreat of political unionism "from dialogue, compromise, agreement and reconciliation".

The senior Sinn Fein figure traced the deterioration in relationships between the two parties to "inability" of unionists to come to terms with the decision by Belfast City Council to switch from year-round displays of the Union Flag to designated days almost 20 months ago.

Since then, he said unionist parties had walked away from dialogue and adopted the position of the Orange Order in setting down pre-conditions for any discussions.

Referring to the now long stalled inter-party talks arising from the failed Haass negotiations on flags, parades and dealing with the past, he said: "Dialogue is now contingent on an Orange march being allowed to parade through a nationalist area of north Belfast.

"And the rejection of dialogue and negotiations has spread like a virus to all other issues, including those already agreed, such as the development of the Maze/Long Kesh site. Similarly with welfare cuts."

Mr McGuinness went on: "The DUP position is that because they have accepted the anti-poor agenda of the Tory millionaires in London, we should all accept cuts to the income of the most vulnerable in our society.

"They have rejected any further discussion on welfare cuts which the British government are trying to impose on the Executive and which is no part of our agreed Programme for Government.

"And let me be absolutely clear, Sinn Fein is totally opposed to the Tory welfare reform programme because it is a right wing, ideologically driven attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

"These welfare cuts would undermine the rights and entitlements of many within unionist and loyalist communities and whole families would be plunged into deeper poverty through reduced support and cuts to their benefit payments."

The senior Sinn Fein negotiator said involvement of the US administration had been a "central pillar of the peace process" with the British and Irish governments acting jointly as guarantors of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He added: "The supporters of the agreement internationally, in particular in the United States of America, need to reassert their interest and influence.

"The two governments need to be champions for progress not, as they have been over the recent past, facilitators of inertia."

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