British Prime Minister Tony Blair and 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appear to have moved away from plans for a ‘shadow’ Six-County Assembly in Belfast, but are still not revealing any proposals for reviving the peace process.
The two met in London after multi-party talks in Belfast, due to be held yesterday, were cancelled on short notice. Ian Paisley’s DUP is continuing to refuse to speak with Sinn Féin and appears implacably opposed to any movement towards sharing power with republicans.
Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Ahern said the two governments still wanted to implement the 1998 Good Friday Agreement “as fully, completely and inclusively” as possible, and he maintained he and Mr Blair remained confident they could achieve success during the course of this year.
The two were said to have identified “a number of strategies” to restore a power-sharing administration to the North of Ireland by the end of the year. A new plan is to be revealed ahead of this summer’s Protestant marching season.
While appealing to the political parties for their support, Mr Ahern also declared: “if it’s left to the two governments, the two governments will give the leadership and take the decisions, if that’s the way it has to be.”
There had been strong opposition from nationalists to proposals by the two governments to create a forum at Stormont without the devolved powers previously enjoyed by the Belfast Assembly.
However, there are continuing suggestions from London that a so-called ‘transitional Assembly’ at Stormont, which would be allowed to handle some day-to-day governmental tasks, should be set up.
This Assembly would be required to “go live” with devolved powers and a power-sharing Executive at a specific date in the future. If it failed to win the support of the DUP, the Stormont Assembly would be consigned to the history books and an alternative strategy developed.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has written to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair, insisting on the immediate restoration of the North’s power-sharing institutions.
But in a significant development, Sinn Féin has said that the two governments should carry out “joint government decision making” if the DUP refuses to share power.
It has long been believed that the DUP’s intransigence must lead the two governments to the putative ‘Plan B’ -- some form of joint authority.
Mr Adams called for the two governments to meet all the parties and unveil “a timetable by which suspension will be lifted and an executive formed”.
“This should be completed before the summer and well in advance of the loyalist marching season,” he said.
“If the DUP rejects this, then the two governments should, on the basis of joint government decision making, get on with delivering those many parts of the Good Friday Agreement that they have direct responsibility for.”
Commenting on the Taoiseach’s remarks yesterday, SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell MP said: “The British government’s plan for a shadow assembly was a lousy idea that had no potential and it is good that they are now rethinking it.”
The SDLP are also opposed to any moves that could interfere with North-South relations under the Agreement.
IRA ‘NO LONGER A THREAT’
It was seen as no coincidence that the governmment-mandated ‘Independent Monitoring Commission’ also released its latest report on IRA and unionist paramilitary activity yesterday.
The IMC said the Provisional IRA does not “present a terrorist threat” and has taken a strategic decision to follow a political path. It said that the IRA leadership has given instructions to its members not to engage in public disorder.
“It does not, in our view, present a terrorist threat and we do not believe it is a threat to members of the security forces,” the four-member commission added.
In a possible reference to allegations of continuing IRA criminality, it also spoke in vague terms of “illegal activity which may be engaged in by the organisation or its members”.
In its ninth report, the IMC claimed the British government and army was meeting its commitments on demilitarisation and that it saw no grounds for suggesting that the programme of demilitarisation “should be either slowed down or accelerated”.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey described the report on demilitarisation as “irrelevant”.
He described the IMC as “a discredited body” which could not be relied upon to deliver an objective or independent assessment of progress on demilitarisation.
“The facts of the matter are that there has only been a minimal reduction in British troop deployment in the north of Ireland in the past year.
“There are presently over 9000 British soldiers based in the Six Counties. There are also a large number of British army bases.
“The closure of a number of observation posts in South Armagh is of course welcome. However, recent revelations about the British Army spying operations in the area along with growing evidence of an increase in incidents of political policing throughout the north suggests that the British Government are more interested in the transformation of their war machinery in the north of Ireland rather than dismantling it.”