"Cherry-picking the Agreement is not a feasible option" - David Andrews
Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Andrews, said today he knows that people in Northern Ireland want peace. "Virtually nobody wants the Agreement to fail. People can see the social and economic benefits which will flow from political stability and from better relations".
The Minister was speaking at the Mayoral Reception in the Guild Hall in Derry, during his two-day visit to Omagh and Derry.
Minister Andrews said that this was a testing time for the Good Friday Agreement. "The Northern parties, and the two Governments, will have delicate calculations and hard decisions to make over the next days and weeks. If we hold our nerve, I am confident that the implementation in full of the Agreement will continue to proceed".
The Minister said that the Agreement was possible because" there was an intense and focussed political effort and because leaders dug deep within themselves to reach difficult compromises". He pointed to the successful and rapid implementation of the constitutional and institutional aspects of the Agreement. "The Agreement on Departments has been formally endorsed in the Assembly last week. There has been agreement on North/South Implementation Bodies, and work on the procedures of the North/South Ministerial Council and British-Irish Council is well advanced". The Minister also referred to the substantial progress made in relation to equality and human rights, prisoner releases, policing, and in the Criminal Justice Review Group.
"None of this would have been possible other than through a comprehensive political agreement, endorsed by the people, and firmly based on the principles of inclusivity, democracy and non-violence" said the Minister, adding that further advances can only be secured through such a comprehensive approach. "Cherry-picking the Agreement - either from a unionist or a nationalist perspective - is no more feasible an option now than it was last year".
Minister Andrews reiterated his view that punishment beatings are inexcusable."We in the Government constantly make clear, in the strongest terms, our abhorrence of them, and we urge all those with any influence to bring them to an end". He welcomed the recent cessation of paramilitary beatings in Republican areas and hoped that it would continue. "This issue is most likely to be resolved in a stable political environment, and with new policing and justice arrangements in place".
Talking about the current political difficulties, the Minister said "We have to collectively, and with great care, construct a way forward which is faithful both to the letter and to the spirit of the Agreement, and which acknowledges the serious political constraints which exist, both within unionism and within republicanism". Minister Andrews added "Each side has to be prepared to move - and will have to be given all possible assistance by others, including the two Governments and, as regards decommissioning, General de Chastelain".
In his speech, Minister Andrews paid tribute to John Hume MEP. He said that the Agreement encapsulated Mr. Hume's philosophy that new political structures must be based on partnership across all of the key relationships. "I know that his vision and leadership will continue to be indispensable in the days and months ahead".