After three days of intensive negotiations in Scotland, the British Prime Minister and 26-County Taoiseach have set out a sequence of moves on policing and the restoration of local power-sharing in the North of Ireland.
Under the deal, the parties would have to respond by November 10th, which would set off moves for the devolution of government powers from London to Belfast by March 26th.
On October 17th, a new Preparation for Government Committee of the shadow Belfast Assembly would meet and agree priorities for a new power sharing government.
By November 21st, special legislation would be introduced at Westminster to give effect to the St Andrews deal, with the Assembly meeting on November 24th to nominate a Democratic Unionist party First Minister and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.
That would be followed by an Independent Monitoring Commission report in January, endorsement by the electorate early in March followed by the nomination of other ministers on March 14th with power finally devolved on March 26th.
The text of Mr Blair and Mr Ahern’s 'agreement' said all parties needed to be wholeheartedly and publicly committed in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership to the full operation of power sharing and cross-Border and British-Irish arrangements.
The document also said every part of the community in the North of Ireland should support policing and the rule of law:
“We believe that the essential elements of support for law and order include endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas, and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions including the Policing Board.”
The governments said the preparation for government committee would continue critical talks on devolving justice and policing powers from London to Belfast and the creation of a new policing and justice department in a restored power-sharing Executive.
“It is our view that implementation of the agreement published today should be sufficient to build the community confidence necessary for the Assembly to request the devolution of criminal justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008.”
With the DUP, Sinn Fein and other parties yet to sign up to the deal, the politicians were warned that failure to establish an executive would leave to the immediate dissolution of the Assembly.
In the event of the deal collapsing the British and Irish Governments would implement their Plan B of taking forward new partnership arrangements under the Belfast Agreement.
DUP leader Ian Paisley that he hoped the “day of the gunmen in government” is over.
But he declared: “It is deeds, not deadlines that count.”
“Everyone who aspires to sit in a position of power in Northern Ireland must, by word and deed” give support for the law of the land and the police service in it,” Dr Paisley said.
With the DUP, Sinn Fein and other parties yet to sign up to the deal, the politicians were warned that failure to establish an executive would leave to the immediate dissolution of the Belfast Assembly.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he would consult with his party and the “wider republican family”.
The timetable, as set out in the proposals, is:
October 13: The Governments publish St Andrews Agreement. Parties consult including through the DUP Assembly Group, the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle (national executive) and other appropriate party bodies, and respond by November 10.
October 17: New Programme for Government Committee begins regular meetings to agree priorities for new executive, with parties represented at leadership level.
November 20/21: Legislation at Westminster to give effect to the St Andrews Agreement, including practical changes to the (devolved) institutions.
November 24: Assembly meets to nominate First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
January: Independent Monitoring Commission report.
March: Endorsement by the electorate of the St Andrews Agreement.
March 14: Members of the executive nominated by party leaders.
March 26: Power devolved and d’Hondt process run for election of power-sharing Executive.
Further details of the proposals will be published here as soon as they become available.