Bill creates ‘transitional Assembly’
British Direct Ruler Peter Hain is rushing emergency legislation through the London parliament to enable the recall of the Belfast Assembly on May 15th.
In a statement to MPs yesterday, Mr Hain said his new bill would arrange the Assembly recall “with the express purpose that it sets about electing a first and deputy first minister on a cross-community basis and then forms an Executive under the d’Hondt formula”.
He insisted that the latest British-Irish initiative to restore devolved government to the Six Counties was “designed for success, not failure”.
Peter Hain said the emergency Bill, which will be rushed through parliament in time for the Assembly’s recall, set “an immoveable deadline of November 24th for getting back to devolution”.
“Otherwise, as the prime minister and the Taoiseach have said, we will have to move on. We are aiming for success.”
Under the Bill, the North’s 108 Assembly members will meet on May 15th to elect a First and Deputy First Minister and to nominate the remaining ministers under the d’Hondt system. Under the system, power would be shared between the North’s parties according to political strength in the Assembly.
If there is agreement, then the Assembly and the new Executive will be given until May 2008 before an election is called - a reversal of earlier plans to call a snap election to help cement any deal.
If there is no agreement by November 24th then the scheduled Assembly election of May 2007 will be “indefinitely postponed”, the Assembly would be dissolved and pay and allowances ended.
Mr Hain accepted that London and Dublin could not force the political parties in the North to share power and that failure could see the two governments “forced to close the book on devolution for the foreseeable future”.
But he said there was a shared desire from all the parties to move forwards and take their places in the devolved institutions.
The real argument, said Mr Hain, “is when and how”.
The original 1998 legislation effecting the Good Friday Agreement is to remain on the statute book.
Mr Hain also sought to assure Unionist and Conservative MPs this week that “there is no question of joint authority” arising from the statement by Mr Blair and Mr Ahern in Armagh.
Mr Hain told him there was “absolutely no threat” to the current constitutional position and declared that the North of Ireland would “of course” remain subject to the British parliament.
It was also disclosed this week that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern are prepared to engage in all party discussions in coming months as efforts are stepped up to restore powersharing devolution.
Mr Hain said it was “crucial” the parties in the North “keep talking”.
Despite the continuing refusal of Ian Paisley’s DUP to hold direct talks with Sinn Féin, Mr Hain said they were committed to facilitating dialogue over the months ahead “in whatever forum is required”.
Commenting on the legislation, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said his party would be scrutinising it and the new Assembly Standing Orders “to ensure that they are about electing a fully functioning Executive and All-Ireland Ministerial Council.
“Anything less than this is unacceptable to Sinn Féin and to the vast majority of people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement.
“The British Direct Rule Ministers are making a mess of our economy and our public services. We urgently need the institutions laid out in the Good Friday Agreement.
“The DUP must now decide. If the DUP continue to fail to sign up for the Good Friday Agreement then the two governments have an obligation to move forward and implement the other outstanding aspects of the Agreement and increase all-Ireland co-operation and decision making regardless of the legislation published today.”