Paisley’s demands conceded, say reports
The proposals, if confirmed, represent a major victory over the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for Ian Paisley and his party’s continuing refusal to share power with republicans. They are due to be launched in Armagh city by 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair this Thursday.
The hardline unionists appear to have won an assembly with a “voluntary coalition” -- avoiding the power-sharing institutions envisaged under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Assembly members are to meet in committee, allowing Paisleyites to avoid speaking directly to republicans during what they have described as the ‘decontamination period’.
Committee decisions would then be considered by British Direct Rule ministers for ultimate approval or rejection.
Initially, the assembly is to be recalled on May 15 for a six-week period, followed by the summer recess and then a further two recalls of six weeks each.
After this period the pressure would be on the parties as they would be faced with the choice of setting up a power-sharing Ministerial Executive or having the Assembly scrapped entirely.
Failure would result in the Dublin and London governments moving to a ‘plan B’ situation, involving ministers from both governments taking decisions in conference.
Legislation will be prepared at Westminster to give these assembly recalls the go ahead.
Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP yesterday warned the two governments that his party was determined to defend the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement.
“We are deeply concerned at the approach of the two governments,” Mr McGuinness said. “Rather than defend the Agreement by standing up to unionist rejectionists, the two governments are allowing the DUP to bully them into diluting the Agreement.
“This is mistake and we have told the two governments this. We remain in close and constant contact with both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minster.
“Our focus is on defending the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement. Anything less than that is unacceptable to Sinn Fein.”
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said that the two governments plan was to recall the assembly for six weeks and then have talks “in another English stately home”.
Following discussions with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin yesterday Mr Durkan urged the 26 County government to stand by the Good Friday Agreement, to restore the assembly and to “flush out” the parties.
Mr Durkan expressed concern about the details and the distance to be travelled in this latest political initiative.
“The details of the governments’ proposals do not add up and we are worried about the shortfall,” he said.
“We want all the institutions restored with full powers and the parties put into a live situation, not shadow boxing in a shadow assembly.”
Mr Durkan criticised the timetable contained in the the governments’ plan.
“That is just a recipe for delay and stalemate. We want to see the governments stand firmer and go further. Our fear is that the DUP is still being left in total control of the political calendar.”
Mr Durkan also told the Labour Party conference today that there were plans for new legislation which would enable British Direct Ruler Peter Hain to change the way institutions operated.
“The Good Friday Agreement is not the property of the British Government to chop and change at their own will or the whim of those opposed to it,” the Foyle MP said. “The DUP have rights under the Agreement. They do not have rights over it.
“The Agreement and their mandate gives them some vetoes in the institutions. They should not have a veto on the institutions.
“We have to hope that what the Taoiseach and Prime Minister announce on Thursday will not just be the source of shadowy Assembly that would be right up the DUP’s street because that could only lead to a dead end.”
30 MILLION POUND SOP
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has voiced concern at reports that a 30 million pound fund has been set up for hardline unionist areas -- another recent demand of the DUP.
Mr Kelly said that hardship in these areas would not be tackled by political expediency or as a sop to unionism and that this approach would have serious implications for equality.
“All of the recent objective evidence shows that poverty and disadvantage is more widespread in nationalist areas. No one would argue that there is not serious poverty in disadvantaged working class loyalist areas. But by the same measure it must also be accepted that there are more serious levels of poverty, deprivation and unemployment in working class nationalist areas.
“The idea that throwing 20 or 30 million pounds at a small number of loyalist areas is a solution is insane. The implications for the equality agenda are huge.
“Such an approach makes a total nonsense of the legal requirement to act fairly and exposes both government and civil service to the charge that they are willing to bend or break the rules to suit their own agenda.”
The Belfast Assembly will be recalled three times in the next few months with the goal of securing cross-community power-sharing this year, but if this fails it could be finally shut down on November 24, according to the latest reports.