The deal still has to be ratified by a referendum in both the north of Ireland and the Republic on 22 May. Before then Sinn Fein is due to hold its annual conference.
Though the signing of the agreement is just a beginning it has raised the expectation of peace. What is more it has exposed and isolated the sectarian bigots around unionist leaders such as Ian Paisley who have opposed the process every inch of the way.
And, even if the British government did milk it for all its worth with Tony Blair hamming-it-up about "the hand of history, it should be recognised that the agreement is an achievement and it is one the Tories completely failed to deliver.
The most important thing now is for the peace process to move forward. There is not peace yet and there will not be peace until there is justice for all the people of northern Ireland. And justice demands that the people of Ireland as a whole have the right to self-determination.
The signing of the agreement has not made a fundamental change regarding Britain's domination of northern Ireland and we therefore continue to raise the demand for an end to the occupation of Ireland by Britain.
It is unfortunately the case that through all the political activity of the past weeks and months there has been no real pressure from the organised working class in Britain, though ending Britain's imperialist role in Ireland is clearly in the best interests of the British working-class.
To that end it is high time that British trade unions stopped the practice of organising in the north of Ireland.
This endorses the status-quo of British imperialism's continuing rule by playing along with the idea that the north of Ireland is an integral part of Britain, no different say from Yorkshire or Cornwall -- a view of northern Ireland that fortunately has been undermined in any case in the course of the peace talks.
The northern Ireland branches of these unions are predominantly Protestant -- partly because of the discrimination against Catholics in the field of employment over the years and, more obviously, because Nationalist and Republican workers would not wish to belong to a British (foreign) trade union anyway. This has had the effect of stifling debate on Ireland in the British labour movement -- a Loyalist veto in fact.
We cannot and should not just sit on the sidelines hoping there
will be peace, hoping Britain will pull out of Ireland and hoping that
one day there will be a united Ireland. Solidarity is worth a whole lot
more than hope.
OVER the last week or so most of Britain has had plenty of rain, snow, hail or a mixture of the lot. Much of the Midlands and East Anglia have suffered serious flooding with lives being lost, homes evacuated and widespread damage.
And yet a report from Water UK, the organisation that represents Britain's 29 water companies, warned that the south and east of Britain could still face water bans this summer.
The privatised companies are still complaining that underground water supplies have not been replenished from earlier periods of drought.
But it is still thought that millions of gallons of water are lost every day through leaks. And while the water runs away the profits still Pour in to the private shareholders.
It shows how stupid and greedy it was to privatise an essential utility - water. These companies are no longer under democratic control and we can only rely upon the Ofwat regulator to prod them into doing something about the wasteful leaks and preventing them damaging our rivers by over-extraction.
And with 29 separate companies the prospects for national planning of this vital resource are nil.
Renationalisation of this industry is vital -- and all the rest.
The Agreement, which is being sent to all households in the north, is to be put to the people throughout Ireland in referendums on 22 May.
The day after the deal was struck on 10 April, Sim Fein president Gerry Adams urged all to read it. He said they had come far, "from civil rights days and the mass popular uprising of the 1970s through intense periods of armed struggle and the prison struggles, including the hunger strike, into electoralism and the Sinn Fein peace strategy -- that struggle goes on."
His Party's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness had earlier made it clear that the Agreement is a basis for negotiation. At a 1,000-strong tally at Carrickmore, County Tyrone, he said he wanted to see if the document was sufficient to move forward to "our primary objective which is still, and which always will be, the eventual re-unification of Ireland."
And Gerry Adams told a cheering north Belfast 1916 Easter Rising commemoration rally that the struggle would continue "until the British army are out of our country, until partition has ended." He said "We want freedom, demilitarisation, the equality agenda, the release of all political prisoners. We are sticking with this." There was scepticism but he believed the feeling was "more of hope".
John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), was optimistic that the "vast majority" of people will vote in favour in the May referendum. He said last Monday that the outcome "was built with no victory to either side" but a partnership for the future.
He said: "I have no doubt that from my experience of recent times that it is the will of the vast majority of our people in both sections of our community to have lasting stability."
Full support for the peace process, he said, had been expressed to him by unionists recently, even though there were elements -especially the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) -- who would have been against the talks come what may. "They couldn't admit they were wrong."
Following the commemorations, Sinn Fein's national executive (ardcomhairle) convened on Tuesday in preparation for this weekend's conference (ardfheis) at which, the Party's chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said, a report back from the negotiating team and an assessment from Sinn Fein national organisers will be given.
Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme last Tuesday morning Mitchel McLaughlin explained that it is part of a "transitional process". He wanted Sinn Fein's membership to be given "every opportunity to have every question answered. If we can do that by the weekend, then we will make a decision."
The Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is maintaining its ceasefire, is reported to have reaffirmed its support for the Sinn Fein leadership. That cannot be said for the minor and marginal Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) which has rejected the deal and has pledged to continue its military campaign.
The Ulster Unionist Party's (UUP) 800-member ruling Council meet to discuss The Agreement tomorrow. They will be mindful of last Saturday's Unionist Council executive decision which fell 55 to 21 in favour of the talks agreement.
As we go to press the 10 Unionist MPs are expected to meet, of
whom four -- the top leadership in the process -- have openly declared
support for the deal. Unionist sources are reported to suggest that the
executive decision will be mirrored on Saturday.
Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) leader Gary McMichael said last Monday that he was content to leave it to the referendum in May to decide "whether we have done right or wrong by signing this deal."
But the DUP, led by Ian Paisley, implacably opposed to the talks process as ever, are mounting a 'No' campaign for the referendum. The Grand Orange Lodge met on Wednesday and rejected the deal.
According to The Irish News, dissident Drumcree loyalists, for instance, have declared they will mount a "united front" at the referendum. A small umbrella organisation -- the United UIster Council -- has been formed to reject the talks deal.
The release of nine IRA prisoners by the Irish government, which the anti-talks unionists have seized upon, is taken as a gesture to nationalists. That fits also with the delayed announcement of the British government's decision to go ahead with construction of a college and university on the west Belfast Springvale site -- close to the nationalist-unionist "peaceline" -- which was welcomed by Gerry Adams last Monday.
Welcome steps that must add up to the big picture of an end to
partition and British withdrawal. As Martin McGuinness said: "No process
which excludes any section of society can hope to be successful. That is
why the equality agenda has been one of our priority objctives in this
The survey, published last week the Low Pay Unit, showed sharp regional differences with hourly rates lowest in Yorkshire, the occupied north of Ireland, the North-east of England and Wales.
The Low Pay Unit is preparing a recommendation to the government on the national minimum wage and is expected to call for at least £4 an hour.
Current pay rates are also low in Scotland - £2.75 an hour for security guards and £3 an hour for hairdressers.
The Low Pay Unit's helpline has uncovered even worse pay rates. A 20-year-old stable hand was paid £10 for a 10-hour day and a 19-year-old beautician was also paid just £l an hour.
The survey showed that the 10 lowest paid jobs are bar staff, restaurant waiting, kitchen portering, childcare. hairdressing, cleaning, agriculcure, laundry/dry cleaning, catering assistant and textile working.
Bill Speirs, deputy general secretary oF the Scottish TUC said these rates are unacceptably low and said they show it is essential that when a national minimum wage is introduced it muse be at a level "which tackles these probIems as quickly as possible".
But a minimum wage is no substitute for a full scale trade union war on low pay. Without this a minimum wage will all too easily become a standard and even a maximum wage in some sectors where employers have few qualms about flouting existing laws.
Employers are saying that a £4 an hour minimum wage will cost jobs. But it would cake at least £6 an hour to lift many workers out of the poverty trap of depending on benefits to pay their rents and feed their families.
While low paid workers face losing benefits as their wages rise, the struggle for higher wages is undermined and so is confidence in the trade union movement.
And the real benefit goes to bosses and landlords who can get away with paying low wages and charging high rents.
The struggle with the Labour leadership over the introduction of the rights of trade unions to recognition from employers, where a majority of the workers want if continues.
Anticipating such a law, the Transport and General Workers Union has called on oil companies such as Shell, BP and Esso to agree voluntarily to re-recognise the union -- in their own interests.
TGWU national secretary Fred Higgs said: "Companies should not wait for legislation and should be getting down to constructive discussions now."
The big oil companies carried through a series of high profile union de-recognitions in the early part of this decade as Tory anti union laws made it easy for them.
Esso de-recognised union representation for its tanker drivers in 1991 and then did the same to workers at its Fawley refinery on the Solent.
Shell de-recognised its tanker drivers and its workers at the Shellhaven refinery.
BP de-recognised workers at Baglan Bay and LLandarcy in Wales and at its Grangemouth refinery.
Mobil, Elf and Fina also de-recognised unions. In total, up to 10,000 workers were affected. The companies colluded together in this de-recognition process.
Meanwhile some union leaders protested that they had well established agreements, up to 50 years old, resulting in good industrial relations and unit labour costs among the lowest in Europe.
Boasting about low wage rates is hardly going to will the confidence
of trade union members.
The Israeli Arab MP, who heads the Internal Affairs Committee in the Knesset the Israeli parliament, told Cairo reporters that Israel's recent offer to pull out of south Lebanon was "a political ploy": He said Netanyahu was using it to try and divert attention from the real crisis caused by his peace-talks stalling with the Palestinians.
Tarif, who was in Egypt for talks with Foreign Minister Amer Mousssa, warned that more efforts must be made to avert a new upsurge of violence.
And the immediate threat comes from Palestine's Islamic Hamas resistance, who have vowed to avenge the murder of one of their top men Moheiddin Sharif, found dead from multiple wounds in Ramallah on 29 March.
Most believe that Sharif was murdered by the Israeli secret police and Islamic demonstrators have been urging bus-bomb vengeance in recent days. He was top on Israel's wanted list - accused of planning bomb attacks which have killed scores of Israelis.
But Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. which administers the "autonomous" zone, says Sharif was killed by members of his own movement in an internal feud. Hamas says Sharif was killed by Israeli intelligence with the collusion of Arafat's security forces.
The Palestinian Authority has made a number of arrests, including a suspect who, they say, has confessed to the crime. Needless to say, relations between Arafat's supporters and Hamas are at an all-time low.
Netanyahu and his hardline supporters like nothing more than to see Palestinians fighting amongst themselves. But it won't get him or his government off the hook over the peace talks stalemate.
Most Arab leaders, including Arafat, have written Likud off as a negotiating partner. And some of them are simply waiting for Netanyahu to fall and the return of Israel's Labour Party. They may have a long wait.
The Labour-led opposition alliance as well as the communist led Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadesh) are all pledged to try and bring down the government, but the mathematics of the current Knesset are against them. Barring a split in his own ranks - and that could happen - Netanyahu is in for another two or more years.
The peace-train will be lucky if it survives another two months - and the Americans know it. Their special envoy Dennis Ross is expected back in the region soon for a last-ditch effort to get a further Israeli pull-back from the West Bank and restore credibility to Arafat's administration and above-all United States' standing in the Arab world.
Washington has all the cards. Israel is a military and economic dependency of the United States. Whether, the Americans will chose to play them will be seen in the days to come.
The new measures will allow union representatives to interview bidders for the PFI contracts and NHS trusts would be obliged to publish PFI documents, assess potential partners on the basis of equal opportunities and trade union recognition and allow unions to assess the bidders' "fair-employment" records.
Health minister Alan Milburn said: "These three changes are stepping stones towards better protecting staff and better assuring the public how PFI operates in the health service.
"PFI schemes have too often been surrounded by secrecy and local communities have a right to know what is being planned in their name."
But this does not answer the main objection to PFI -- that it puts the buildings and equipment of the NHS in the hands of private enterprise to own and administer. It is a not-so-subtle form of privatisation.
It leaves the generations to come saddled with never ending rent bills to use the facilities.
And the private sector is subject to market forces so no guarantees can be given. Private finance companies can go bankrupt, merge, be taken over and completely change their nature. They may sign contracts but neither they nor we know how long the companies will be in existence to fulfil them.
And of course their chief motive is profit. Earlier this month the government announced a new wave of NHS PFI deals to replace existing ageing hospitals.
Now local communities are discovering that in every case the total number of hospital beds in the brand new, privately owned hospitals the NHS will be renting, is being cut in some cases up to 30 per cent compared to the old hospitals that are closing.
The number of beds in these hospitals is being decided not on the basis of patients' needs but on the basis of the PFI companies' profit needs.
Dr Matthew Dunnigan, a critic of PFI, explained: "Some of us thought New Labour would ditch PFI - on the contrary, they have embraced it wholeheartedly.
"But there is a cost when you apply it to hospitals, which are capital intensive, you have to reduce running costs - and that inevitably means substantially fewer beds."
The government is also setting up a £32 million "performance fund" to reward health authorities for cutting waiting lists and to pay for task forces for those not doing enough.
Certainly much more funding is needed to cut waiting lists but awarding it in this way will only encourage health services to achieve these cuts by massaging the figures - as they did under the Tories.
This means taking certain categories of patients off the waiting lists altogether and telling people with conditions that may be discomforting and even painful but that are not life-threatening that they will just have to learn to live with them.
Waiting lists can be cut by making people wait longer to see a consultant in the first place so they take longer to get on the lists.
They can also be cut by increasing the speed at which patients are pushed through the system and out the other end - often packed off home long before they are really fit enough.
This leaves their friends and families with the frightening burden
of having to take the place of trained and qualified nurses in the continuing
care of these patients - if they are lucky enough to have friends and family.