Northern Ireland

Seamus Mallon accuses DUP and Sinn Féin of 'failing' Good Friday Agreement

Seamus Mallon Image copyright Pacemaker Press
Image caption Mr Mallon shared power with First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement has not failed but it has been failed by those who are not operating it properly, a former deputy first minister has said.

Seamus Mallon from the SDLP accused Sinn Féin and the DUP of creating a total mess with their failure to reach agreement to restore devolution.

"Damage has been done to the very essence of the agreement in terms of reconciling the communities," he said.

He was speaking at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh.

Image copyright Pacemaker Press
Image caption Seamus Mallon pictured in 2011 with former SDLP leaders John Hume

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since January, when a power-sharing coalition led by the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed over a green energy scandal.

'Sick society'

A series of negotiations aimed at resolving a number of outstanding disputes between the parties, including disagreement over Irish language legislation, have so far ended in failure.

Mr Mallon said neither party had brought forward any proper proposals to heal division between Northern Ireland's communities.

"You have a very sick society when the definition of culture on one side is the burning of bonfires and, on the other side, using the Irish language for what is a patently political reason," he said.

"When you start to make a cultural element a red line in terms of political negotiation, it is impossible to pursue that without turning that into a political cudgel."

He accused both Sinn Féin and the DUP of trying to put their own stamp on the Good Friday Agreement and wishing to change it fundamentally.

Asked about the SDLP's loss of its three Westminster seats in the last election, he said he had faith in his party and in the middle ground in Northern Ireland.

"We'll keep at it, we'll do what we did in the past.

"We'll keep the political process going while everybody else is beating drums and we'll get back. I have no doubts," he said.

"The DUP and Sinn Féin are both dancing around each other. Some of the issues are not real issues."

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