Shadow of the Belfast Assembly
Shadow of the Belfast Assembly

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said he will nominate DUP leader Ian Paisley as First Minister and his own party’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister when the Belfast Assembly is reconvened on Monday.

Under the standing orders of the Assembly, both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister must be elected together as part of the election of the power-sharing Executive.

However, with the DUP still refusing to speak to Sinn Féin, much less share power, the process is certain to fail. The DUP reject the announcement as “a gimmick”.

Monday’s political reunion is expected to mark the first of six uneasy weeks of a controversial “transitional assembly” before the summer break. Television coverage of politicians at Stormont is intended to remove the sense of political vacuum ahead of the contentious Protestant marching season.

However, it is hoped the process will culminate in November with the return of local, devolved power-sharing government in Belfast for the first time in over four years, or lead to new and uncharted political territory.

At Stormont on Thursday, Mr Adams said the current phase of political talks would decide the future of the Good Friday Agreement “and the stakes are that high”.

He said Sinn Féin’s focus would be on the restoration of the political institutions including the power sharing executive but would absent themselves from meaningless debates on local government issues.

“In reality the Peter Hain assembly is powerless on all these issues. It would be nothing more than a talking shop,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has accused the rival nationalist SDLP of being confused in its attitude to the Assembly.

Although initially rejecting a shadow assembly, SDLP leader Mark Durkan indicated yesterday his party would take part in debates in order to test British attitudes to SDLP policies.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said he SDLP appeared to have a confused approach to the Assembly.

“Sinn Féin is absolutely clear on our approach to the Peter Hain Assembly,” the Newry and Armagh MP said.

“We will be there solely for the business of establishing a power-sharing government.

“Anything else is a waste of time and an attempt by powerless politicians to justify their salaries and allowances.”

He continued: “If Assembly members want to change British policy on water charges, increased rates, rural planning, education and health cuts, the only way to do this is to set up our own power-sharing Executive.

“The DUP, however, have given no commitment or signal that they will enter a power-sharing executive.

“I am therefore, concerned at the confusion and mixed messages coming from the SDLP.

“Having repeatedly said that they would not be involved in a talking shop they are now saying they will take part in pointless debates in a powerless Assembly.

“This can only encourage the DUP in their belief that they can achieve an Assembly which departs from the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The SDLP need to clear up the confusion and tell us if they are now willing to be part of a sham Assembly.”

* Democratic Unionist Jim Wells and Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy were yesterday named by Peter Hain as Stormont’s two new deputy Speakers.

Mr Hain had already appointed former cross-community Alliance Party deputy leader Eileen Bell as Speaker.

* Hain has also introduced new junior direct-rule ministers Paul Goggins and Maria Eagle who replaced Shaun Woodward and Angela Smith in last week’s British government reshuffle.

Ms Eagle, a Liverpool MP, takes responsibility in the North of Ireland for employment, learning, education, enterprise, trade, investment, culture, arts and leisure.

Mr Goggins, a Manchester MP, will control policing, prisons, health, social services and public safety.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News