Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey has hit out at bogus claims made by Sinn Fein regarding the Belfast Agreement.
Lord Empey, who was one of the key negotiators of the Belfast Agreement, said:
“Some of the comments made by Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill about the Belfast Agreement in relation to Wednesday’s meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London, really must be challenged.
“One of her more outlandish claims was that 'We have made clear that for Irish nationalism any return to British direct rule would represent its (the Agreement) abandonment and is therefore unacceptable.'
“As someone who helped negotiate the Belfast Agreement I must say that she is completely wrong. This is hardly surprising given that back in the run up to the Agreement in 1998 Sinn Fein made no contribution to Strand 1 discussions, boycotting any debate, failing to produce papers and failing to comment on the papers of others.
“Sinn Fein also stayed neutral on the Agreement in the referendum and are in no position to take up the role of 'protectors' of the Agreement. Indeed, it was their failure to persuade the IRA to decommission its weapons in a reasonable time that delayed the full implementation of the Agreement. In the present day, Sinn Fein’s shopping list of demands is a road block to the return of Stormont, so their alleged support for the Agreement is utterly bogus as they refuse to fully acknowledge the principle of consent.
“This was evident in Michelle O’Neill’s reference to ‘joint stewardship through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.’ This is quite obviously an attempt to drive a coach and horses through the principle of consent which underpins the Belfast Agreement.
“Michelle O’Neill also said that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference ‘allows both governments to co-operate at all levels on all matters’ when she knows perfectly well that it does not. The reality is that the BIIC has no powers to intervene on devolved matters, and for Sinn Fein to try to build it up into an effective alternative is a complete sham.
“Sinn Fein are simply manipulating and twisting the words of the Agreement and would be better served in getting Stormont back rather than making bogus claims about the Belfast Agreement.”