McGuinness accuses Cameron of lack of engagement in North

Fri, Jun 29, 2012, 01:00

BRITISH PRIME minister David Cameron was last night accused of “a lack of engagement” in the Northern Ireland peace process by Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Speaking in Portcullis House, part of the houses of parliament in London, Mr McGuinness said people might be shocked to discover he and First Minister Peter Robinson had met US president Barack Obama more often than Mr Cameron. “This lack of engagement by David Cameron is a serious mistake and may provide a rationale for some of the damaging decisions made by Owen Paterson during his tenure at the Northern Ireland Office,” the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister said.

However, he chose to soften the language of a prepared script that accused the British government of having made “a series of stupid and unhelpful decisions” on Northern Ireland in recent times. Instead, he said they had made “wrong and unhelpful decisions”.

On taking office, Mr Cameron privately made it clear he would not follow the example set by his predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, where Northern Irish political leaders had frequent access to 10 Downing Street.

The list of British mistakes, Mr McGuinness claimed, included the revocation of the licence of Old Bailey bomber Marian Price, who was returned to jail after attending a dissident republican rally in Derry.

He was critical also of the decision to keep Martin Corey, who was convicted of killing two RUC officers in 1973, in jail. He was released on licence after serving 18 years for the double murder, but was returned to prison two years ago.

The refusal to hold a full public inquiry into the parachute regiment’s killing of 10 people in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971, along with the decision not to honour the Weston Park pledge to properly investigate solicitor Pat Finucane’s murder, added “to the sense of hurt”.

Last night a spokesman for the Conservative Party rejected Mr McGuinness’s criticisms, saying: “The prime minister has always taken a close interest in Northern Ireland affairs.

“The fact is that most PM involvement over the past 15 years has been driven by crises in the peace process.

“Mercifully, thanks to the efforts of a large number of people – including Sinn Féin – NI enjoys political stability, and we are able to move beyond the politics of the peace process.

“It is impossible to think of any political crisis in NI today that requires the attention of the PM over and above dealing with the worst global economic crisis in 80 years and the crisis in the euro zone – something which would of course benefit every single person in NI,” the spokesman declared.

The tone of Mr McGuinness’s speech may have had much to do with Sinn Féin’s need to assure its own audience that it has not weakened on the ambition of a united Ireland following his meeting this week with the queen.

“It was a meeting which, although short in length, can I believe, have much longer effects on defining a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves,” Mr McGuinness told an invited audience.