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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Pledge row probably not last glitch
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

The St Andrews Agreement is far from a done deal. Not my words, but those of DUP leader Ian Paisley, the politician on whose assent the hopes of Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern depend.

Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams
The meeting between Mr Paisley and Mr Adams was postponed
If the scale of the achievement in the Fairmont Bay Hotel was greater than most observers had been anticipating, the days that followed were distinctly anti-climactic.

The supposedly historic meeting between Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, scheduled for a Stormont Committee room on Tuesday 17 October, failed to take place.

So the first item on the St Andrews timetable was postponed.

History had to wait while the DUP attempted to resolve a row with the government over when a ministerial pledge of office needs to be taken.

The DUP claimed to have a promise from Tony Blair that Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness would pledge his support for the police and the courts on 24 November.

There's an air of unreality about the row over Martin McGuinness' pledge
That would coincide with his designation as deputy first minister but come before Sinn Fein holds a special Ard Fheis to decide its future policing policy.

Both British and Irish officials would have preferred any pledge to be left until March when the power-sharing executive is due to go live.

Ian Paisley says that if Sinn Fein is having difficulties persuading its supporters to accept the police, they should ask the government for more time.

But this neatly avoids the point that republicans wanted a joint designation of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness on 24 November - minus any pledge - precisely as a confidence-building gesture ahead of their Ard Fheis.

Unpicking the problems over a precisely choreographed series of steps on policing and power-sharing was what the St Andrews talks were meant to be all about.

If the parties meet their deadlines, the row over the pledge won't even make a footnote in the peace process textbooks
There's an air of unreality about the row over Martin McGuinness' pledge.

Republicans may believe it would be premature for the Mid Ulster MP to have to take a pledge ahead of the Ard Fheis.

But if the St Andrews timetable is to be met, the Sinn Fein leadership would have already endorsed the deal by 10 November, including Paragraph 6 which backs the PSNI.

They would have also implicitly given their assent to the wording of a new pledge which will be included in an emergency law to be passed days before the 24 November designation.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness
The DUP want Martin McGuinness to make a pledge on policing
Equally, one wonders when the DUP started setting so much store by a pledge from a former IRA leader?

From 1989 onwards, Sinn Fein councillors have been making a solemn declaration against terrorism, required under a law passed by Margaret Thatcher.

Until the IRA ceasefire of 1994, the republican pledges not to support terrorism or any acts of political violence did not seem to make a great deal of difference to the course of the IRA campaign.

Shouldn't the lesson be that it's not what you say, or even what you pledge that counts, but what you do?

Pledge to take a pledge?

Immediately after the postponement of Tuesday's meeting, both DUP and Sinn Fein officials and ministers appeared confident a way forward could be found.

Peter Hain called it a "glitch". Dermot Ahern suggested to Inside Politics that some kind of pledge to take a pledge might be the way forward.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists have been making hay over why the DUP set such great store by a side deal with Tony Blair and questioning whether it was verbal or written.

DUP MEP Jim Allister
DUP MEP Jim Allister went public about his profound scepticism
If the parties meet their 24 November and 26 March deadlines then the row over the pledge won't even make a footnote in the peace process textbooks.

But Tuesday 17 October was also the day the DUP MEP Jim Allister went public on his profound scepticism about the St Andrews Agreement.

The pledge notwithstanding, there are plenty of reasons why Mr Allister believes St Andrews is far from a done deal.

So the pledge is unlikely to be the last "glitch" before the agreement is fully implemented.




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