28/03/2002

Belfast Agreement monitoring group meet for first time

Progress talks on the Good Friday Agreement have started between the British and Irish governments and the pro-Agreement parties in Hillsborough.

This is the first meeting of the Implementation Group, which was set up following last year’s Weston Park talks, with the aim of monitoring the Agreement’s progress.

The meeting on Thursday brought to the table the Northern Ireland Secretary of State John Reid, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen, and representatives from the main pro-agreement parties - the Ulster Unionists, SDLP, Sinn Féin, Alliance and the Women’s Coalition.

Speaking before the meeting SDLP deputy leader Bríd Rodgers said she wanted to see greater process in implementing key parts of the Good Friday Agreement and Weston Park talks – namely the Criminal Justice Review, demilitarisation and the resolution of the Nelson, Hamill and Finucane cases.

Mrs Rodgers said: “Yesterday we met the Secretary of State and indicated our concern at the failure to implement the criminal justice Review properly. We made it clear that as a result we could not support the devolution of justice powers. The defective Criminal Justice Bill has now been held back. We want the new opportunity opened up to be used to get the Bill right.”

Mrs Rodgers added: “The SDLP is tired of the politics of crisis, brinkmanship, side deals and secret letters. We need to ensure that the parties work together to find solutions to our problems, instead of running off behind each other’s backs to try and get one up on one another.

Following the meeting the Women's Coalition party's delegates, Monica McWilliams and Jane Morrice, said the frank exchange of views had "demonstrated the value of the implementation group":

In a statement they said: "This morning, views were exchanged on decommissioning, demilitarisation, the stability of institutions, the civic forum, policing, justice issues and opposition to the Agreement. The parties round the table were keen to play their part in resolving these issues, rather than leaving them to the Secretary of State."

The meeting was longer than anticipated and the parties present are understood to have called for a meeting in six weeks time, much sooner than proposed by the two governments.

(AMcE/SP)

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