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Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 19:06 GMT
SDLP ups arms pressure
Arms-policing: Accusations fly as elections near
Arms-policing: Accusations fly as elections near
The chairman of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party has accused Sinn Fein of using the policing issue to distract attention from the IRA's refusal to disarm.

Speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics programme on Saturday, Alex Attwood said republicans must directly address their responsibility to achieve IRA disarmament.

Mr Attwood urged Sinn Fein and the IRA to face up to their responsibility on weapons as part of a collective move to resolve the problems in the Northern Ireland peace process.

With the process deadlocked over IRA decommissioning, nationalist attitudes to police reforms, British demilitarisation and Ulster unionist sanctions against Sinn Fein, Mr Attwood called for a return to the spirit which led to the Good Friday Agreement.

"It is always very interesting that when Sinn Fein are challenged about the issue of weapons, they immediately change the issue to one of policing," the SDLP policing spokesman said.

Alex Attwood:
Alex Attwood: "Republicans must honour their commitments"
"It is time for republicans collectively to face up to their responsibility with respect to the disposal of weapons."

The SDLP is still refusing to endorse police reforms in the province.

But Mr Attwood denied his party had got itself stuck on a political hook on the issue.

He added: "My sense and understanding of republicans is that if you give republicans the opportunity to debate, discuss and not decide, then they will take all the time in the world."

'Willing to talk guns'

However, speaking on the same programme Sinn Fein policing spokesmen Gerry Kelly accused Mr Attwood of trying to score political points.

He said republicans were always willing to discuss the weapons issue.

"I will talk about weapons any time you want to talk about it. It is an issue which affects all of us.

Gerry Kelly:
Gerry Kelly: "SDLP still have to make their decision on policing"
"What was agreed in the Good Friday Agreement was that the parties - all the political parties - would use whatever influence they have had.

"Sinn Fein have used their influence more than any other party involved.

"It's alright for Alex and the SDLP, if he is speaking for them, to speak as if he is some sort of arbitrator in the middle of ourselves and the unionists but he is a part of this. He signed up to it as well."

Mr Kelly added: "Mr Attwood says people are going to have to decide. Then, tell us what is he going to do on policing?"

McCartney predicts wipeout

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein came under fire from Ulster Unionist Fermanagh/South Tyrone parliamentary candidate James Cooper who warned that policing was being undermined by both parties' "prevarication" on whether to support the new service.

"Policing is collapsing in this society because the SDLP and Sinn Fein are prevaricating about getting on board with the police boards and there is a grave set of double standards when it comes to policing," he said.

Meanwhile, United Kingdom Unionist Party leader Robert McCartney predicted catastrophe for the Ulster Unionists at the forthcoming General and local government elections.

In a BBC interview at his party's annual conference in County Down on Saturday, Mr McCartney said his party had already signed up 18 candidates to stand in the local government elections.

"We are still receiving returns from our constituency associations as to how many councillors they will nominate," he added.

"There will be some in South Down, quite a few in Upper Bann, some in the Banbridge area and in Lagan Valley and greater Belfast and of course there will be four or five candidates in North Down."

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See also:

06 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Unionists retain ban on Sinn Fein
11 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Paisley criticises ban threat
09 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble: 'Sinn Fein veto to stay'
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