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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 07:04 GMT
Mallon toasts Good Friday Agreement
By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent

Seamus Mallon of the SDLP
Seamus Mallon was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement
On the day of the Good Friday Agreement, Seamus Mallon went home exhausted, with thoughts of having a quiet whiskey or two in celebration.

Ten years on, Mr Mallon was asked how he would mark the anniversary.

"I will be aware of it. I'm not a great one for anniversarie," he said.

"There's so many anniversaries in Irish life - not all of them good."

But he did add: "Maybe, at some stage, I will find myself in a convivial place and raise a glass or maybe two to people like David Trimble who took the chances, had the courage to try it, and got clobbered for his courage."

Although they had their battles, and were dubbed the 'odd couple' while in office, it's clear that Seamus Mallon holds a grudging respect for Mr Trimble's efforts, and a lingering resentment over how the governments have handled the political process post-1998.

'Sword of decommissioning'

He suggests that the two governments should have reached their own understanding on the requirements to support policing and decommission arms rather than allowing the issues to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Decommissioning, he said, became a sword used to slice up the Ulster Unionist Party.

Asked if he could take his pen and change the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Mallon said he would have a very close look at the question of designation, and how parties are required to declare themselves unionist, nationalist or other.

"I would seek an alternative to that as a protection for the rights of both communities," he said.

Mr Mallon said he would seek more flexibility in the voting system while still providing absolute protection for equality and parallel consent (that is both unionists and nationalists having to agree contentious issues).

He described as "demeaning" the way the Alliance party was able to redesignate to enable David Trimble and Mark Durkan to be elected First and Deputy First Minister in 2002.

He also said he would like to see "healthier flexibility" in the way the Northern Ireland Executive is formed.

He also had concerns about the autonomy of ministers without reference to the executive.

He said this was "playing with fire."

When it was pointed out that the DUP claimed to have improved collectivism through changes in the St Andrew's Agreement, Mr Mallon was dismissive.

"St Andrew's was a fig leaf to change the name from the Good Friday Agreement to the St Andrew's Agreement."

Good Friday Agreement
It is 10 years since the Good Firday Agreement was signed

Mr Mallon, one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, admitted it was painful to see the news of the St Andrew's Agreement.

"It was very hard to watch," he said.

He added: "(It) was part of the way in which the two governments operated through negotiations.

"You buy people in, and unfortunately in politics, if you are buying people in, you are selling others out."

Asked if he felt that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern had sold out him out at St Andrew's, Mr Mallon replied: "They certainly sold David Trimble out when they called an election that they knew he couldn't possible win."

This was a reference to the failed deal in the autumn of 2003 which spectacularly fell apart over decommissioning.

"No party could have survived that. Did the governments not know what the result would be? Of course they did. And they tossed him out of the boat," he said.

Mr Mallon said changes were required to the north-south arrangements.

Firstly, he said, the government should put Northern Ireland "on a level playing field" with the republic in terms of grant availability and incoming investment incentives.

"The north of Ireland is trying to complete with two hands tied behind its back," he said.

Furthermore, he said more meaningful arrangements should be introduced.

I believe Britain will go, they will leave
Seamus Mallon

Instead of just dealing with animal welfare he said there should be formal cooperation for the whole agriculture industry and also in terms of human health.

Mr Mallon was asked if he thought the Good Friday Agreement would lead to a united Ireland.

He suggested there may be federal or confederal arrangements in future.

"I believe Britain will go, they will leave. I don't think that will result in a 32 county political arrangement."

Mr Mallon said that a 32-county arrangement would give Northern Ireland's unionists and nationalists the balance of power in the Dail and that would not suit the established parties in Dublin.

"There will still be an administration in the north of Ireland elected by the northern Irish people making decisions.

"I think it will survive any constitutional change which will come."

Mr Mallon suggested his party, the SDLP, which has lost ground with the peace process and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, may yet recover with time and "a sense of justice".

He is pleased that the new policing arrangements are taking root and being supported by both sides of the community.

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