DUP leader Ian Paisley has said that there will be no power-sharing with nationalists unless the Provisional IRA “repents of its evil deeds”.
Mr Paisley was speaking in France, where he was attending the annual commemoration of the Battle of the Somme of World War I.
It was not immediately clear if this amounted to a new precondition for progress by the unionist hardliner. However, Mr Paisley expressed pessimism about the possibility of achieving a new Executive in Belfast by the November 24th deadline, and “utter contempt” for fallback plans for joint administration of the North by Dublin and London.
On Thursday, the 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister were in London to set out a programme for talks leading up to the hoped-for election of an Executive and the return of the other political institutions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The alternative, if the talks fail, would be the shuttering of the Assembly -- with the termination of the salaries and expenses of Assembly members -- and the introduction of “partnership arrangements” for the North akin to those envisaged in the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Reminded that the IRA had decommissioned, he said: “You don’t bluff Ulster people. You’re not facing the threat of the IRA in the Irish Republic. We are. And we are not entering into any government with the IRA until the IRA ceases to be a terrorist organisation, gives up its criminal activities, gives up its refusal to acknowledge the authority of the police force or the authority of the courts in Northern Ireland.”
In talks at the end of last week, Dr Paisley continued, the IRA “made it very clear that they will not do that. So that’s their decision. And if they want to opt out of the system, let them opt out of the system.”
His critics point out that joint Irish and British administration of the North could be more “green” than what is now on offer.
“Don’t threaten us with that,” Dr Paisley said angrily. “The Ulster people will meet that threat when it comes. And I don’t think the British government have the stomach for any such thing. And I would like to see the secretary of state [British Direct Ruler, Peter Hain] stay in the government in Westminster saying that.
“Do you think you are going to cod the people of Northern Ireland with that . . ?” Dr Paisley paused, making a hissing, spitting noise. “That’s all it is,” he said of the plan for Irish-British administration. “I treat it with utter contempt. It is contemptuous to say to a politician and a country: ‘You’re going to have a different type of rule and it’s going to be detrimental to you.’
Following meetings with the politics parties in Belfast, Mr Ahern and Mr Blair insisted that the November 24th deadline for consensus had to be met.
In a joint statement they said: “If the political will exists then we believe the very few issues which remain to be resolved can be satisfactorily addressed in that timescale.”
They pressed the parties, but Sinn Féin and the DUP in particular, to address the outstanding issues over the summer at committee level so that the Assembly could “get down to preparing for government when it reconvenes in September”.
Mr Ahern and Mr Blair published a timetable of work to help facilitate work towards restoration of the Belfast Agreement’s institutions.
“I do really believe that this is the chance to make devolution work,” said Mr Blair. “There is no pressure of an arbitrary sort that we can put on any party in this process . . . The parties have got to build this as a voluntary act.”
Further “intensive engagement” by himself and Mr Ahern following the October report of the Independent Monitoring Commission was probable. The IMC is the governments’ ceasefires watchdog.
Mr Ahern said failure to restore the institutions would deprive the people of the chance of devolved government.
“If not, then we’re off on a different track and I didn’t hear anyone today say they want to be off on a different track.”
Mr Blair said it was “the last chance for this generation”.
“The basic deal is as it has always been,” he added. “An agreement on the basis of a commitment by everybody to peaceful and democratic means.”
Mr Ahern and Mr Blair said they preferred not to talk about any ‘plan B’ in the event of failure to reach agreement by November.
“If this fails,” said the Taoiseach, “then we have an obligation to take it to another level, but that surely is not our preference.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the two governments had sought to reassure republicans “of their total commitment to the November 24th deadline and their commitment to making this process work”, he said.
“We now want them to match that verbal commitment with action in the time ahead,” he said.
“For our part, we told the Taoiseach and the British prime minister that they must act to bring about the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement. Words are not enough.
“That means strengthening and enhancing the all-Ireland institutional arrangements, as well as removing the barriers to greater co-ordination and co-operation on social, economic, health, agriculture and education matters.
“The onus is on shaping the process, firstly to implement the Agreement and advance peoples rights and entitlements, and secondly to persuade the DUP to come on board. This responsibility rests with the two governments.”