Statement of the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister
The following statement and ‘work plan’ were issued in Belfast on Thursday by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.
1 We met today with the parties to review progress towards the restoration of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland by November and to discuss the way ahead. While the Assembly has reconvened in recent weeks we note the disappointment and frustration across Northern Ireland at the inability to move more quickly beyond procedural issues.
2 It is absolutely clear that if devolution is to be restored by the November 24th deadline then the parties will need to engage with greater urgency and determination to reach agreement. If the political will exists then we believe the very few issues which remain to be resolved can be satisfactorily addressed in that timescale.
3 In order to facilitate resolution of these issues, and as envisaged in our statement of April 6th, the Assembly will continue its work in the autumn. Given the urgent need to make rapid progress, we urged the parties to make full use of the summer period to continue work at committee level so that the Assembly can get down to preparing for government when it reconvenes in September. In order to assist work in the autumn, we have published today a work plan and an indicative timetable for full restoration. Above all, we hope that parties will use the summer to consult their members and their communities on the way forward. The parties need to weigh in the balance any outstanding issues and any lingering mistrust against the prospect of losing devolution for another generation.
4 We were clear when we met in Armagh that people in Northern Ireland are impatient for progress and will not tolerate a political process which stretches out indefinitely. We are convinced that November is the outer limit of an acceptable timeframe. Failure to meet that deadline would be a failure which will put the Assembly in cold storage from November 24th. That would be very regrettable, but everyone accepts that an Assembly subsidised by the public which is not serving its community through active government is simply not sustainable. In this context, we also took the opportunity today to review progress on new partnership arrangements that would need to be put in place to ensure our effective joint stewardship of the Good Friday agreement in the event that devolution does not take place by November 24th. This work continues.
5 The key to real political progress is genuine and frank political engagement from all sides on the outstanding issues. That conviction is as strong following our discussions today as it has ever been. We look forward to all concerned intensifying their efforts in the period ahead so that fully-restored institutions can become a reality. The issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland can best be addressed by the elected politicians working together in the devolved institutions. We believe that they should move forward together in agreement to do so.
July/August: During the summer parties continue to address necessary issues in preparation for government and to consult their members and communities.
Preparation for government committee continues its work (i) identifying the issues that need to be addressed and (ii) preparing a programme of work to enable the Assembly to address these (to be agreed and announced by end August).
MLAs and parties discharge responsibilities towards employees, landlords etc in respect of ending of salaries and allowances from November 24th.
September: During the autumn, efforts to elect first minister/deputy first minister continue. Parties hold discussions with each other and the governments on changes to the institutions. Discussions with parties continue on support for and devolution of policing.
Week beginning September 4th: Assembly returns.
Week beginning September 11th: Peter Hain, Dermot Ahern take stock of progress on all outstanding issues with the parties.
Timetabled subjects in plenary on preparation for government; Preparation for government committee continues its work.
October: Parties conclude discussions on all outstanding issues. Taoiseach and prime minister continue to monitor progress closely.
Week beginning October 2nd: governments receive and publish IMC report.
Assembly sessions to prepare for government continue.
Final consultations within parties if necessary, and confirmation of readiness to finalise preparations for government.
Parties conclude discussions and finalise draft programme for government and draft ministerial code.
November: Parties and governments make final preparations for restoration of the institutions.
Week beginning November 20th: last opportunity to amend Standing Orders and introduce Emergency Bill (on changes to the institutions) at Westminster following all-party agreement to restore devolution.
November 24th: last opportunity for selecting first minister/deputy first minister and Executive and affirming pledge of office. By midnight Secretary of State notifies presiding officer of intention to make a Restoration Order [effective November 27th].
Week beginning November 27th: Ministers arrive at departments. Executive meets.
November 24th: Salaries and allowances for MLAs and financial assistance to parties stop.
British-Irish inter-government conference at prime ministerial summit level to launch new British-Irish partnership arrangements.