The mood at the first days of a new ‘transitional’ northern assembly were low key and overshadowed by the sectarian murder of Catholic schoolboy Michael McIlveen in Ballymena.

Before proceedings began again at Stormont outside Belfast, all assembly members from all parties bowed their heads in a minute’s silence, a moment which seemed events in some context.

Sinn Féin has criticised the “debates” at Stormont -- which have no basis or powers under the Good Friday Agreement -- as a ‘talking shop’.

The party did not take part in the first debate on Tuesday.

As it was not about the formation of a power-sharing executive, the West Belfast MP said: “Today’s session is not about this because of the Democratic Unionist Party’s refusal at this time to accept their responsibilities.”

He dubbed the new assembly -- not the ‘Northern ireland Assembly’ of the 1998 legislation -- as the “Peter Hain Assembly”.

He called for a sustainable devolved administration in Belfast.

“That is the only way we can deal with all of these outstanding issues, whether it is education cuts, health cuts, water charges, rates or the whole issue of the economy.

“That is what we should be doing today.”

The opening session on Monday saw a registration process before the two largest parties from the last assembly election, the DUP and Sinn Féin, sat at the top and opposite each other, staring across the chamber.

The DUP may not yet speak to Sinn Féin, never mind share power, but it was hard for the parties to avoid eye contact.

While the assembly is effectively a talking shop only without any real powers, there appeared to be some satisfaction among some of the North’s politicians to be again walking the “corridors of power”, even if they cannot exercise any.

SDLP deputy leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said Sinn Féin’s decision to stay out on Tuesday was a return to “old habits”.

The South Belfast MP said: “Sinn Féin have always been boycotting this and abstaining from that.

“In reality they are probably going back to their old habits here.

Assembly members are due to attempt a vote on the appointment of First and Deputy First Ministers next Monday.

This is certain to fail after the DUP confirmed that it wouldn’t seriously consider sharing power with Sinn Féin until the end of this year at the earliest.

DUP Deputy Leader Peter Robinson revealed at the weekend that his party won’t even start consulting the unionist community about Sinn Féin’s suitability for government until after the next report from the Independent Monitoring Commission is published in October.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Ian Paisley warned Sinn Féin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair there will be no cabinet seat for republicans in a future power sharing government unless the IRA has gone out of business and Sinn Féin gives its “absolute support” for the PSNI police.

After the transitional Assembly met, the famously intransigent unionist said: “If I could get the last drop of blood from the republican stone, then I would do it.”


26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned northern parties they must reach agreement by November 24 - or squander their best chance to do so for another 20 years.

“Now is the hour,” he said, adding he and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had spent a combined 20 years on the North of Ireland to bring it to this point.

To extend the deadline for the return of power-sharing beyond that date would “just be a nonsense”, the Taoiseach said.

“It will be unworkable, it’ll flake away into flitters. That’s just the reality of it. If we can’t do it in six months then we’re unlikely to do it this side of the next 20 years,” he said.

To consider an alternative to local parties doing business together, one had only to look at the Middle East, Mr Ahern said. After being “all around the mulberry bush”, it was time for “real politics for real people in Northern Ireland”.

“We’ve had to, one by one, break down the barriers to get here, and it is a major achievement to do so. I’ve spent a lot of my political life on this and I’ve been in more castles around England than I ever thought existed, spending hours and hours and days and days negotiating and talking.

“Do (politicians) want conflict, disharmony, hated and bigotry which usually leads to deaths and atrocities, or do they want to deal with the everyday issues that affect young and old, and everyone in between?” he asked.

Progress would be based on the Good Friday Agreement. “That’s the only way we’ll resolve this issue and this week starts that. They’ve six months to decide and I hope they do it right, and I believe they will.”

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness welcomed Mr Ahern’s comments.

“All of the parties with the exception of the DUP have indicated that they also are up for power sharing. The only question which has to be answered in the time ahead is whether or not Ian Paisley will for the first time accept sharing power with his neighbours on the basis of equality.

“It is my hope that the DUP will come on board in establishing a power sharing government. But what is now clear is that the two governments need to make it clear to the DUP the stalling tactics currently being adopted cannot stretch on any longer.”

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2006 Irish Republican News