St Andrews process seen struggling

British Direct Ruler Peter Hain is to include an election to the Belfast Assembly in legislation he is introducing in London on Thursday in preference to a potentially risky referendum vote.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Ian Paisley has continued to maintain a fixed position on the issue, calling for an immediate declaration of support by Sinn Féin for the PSNI police.

Following a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he stressed that it was a precondition for further progress.

“It is clear that Sinn Féin and the republican movement are reneging and postponing the decisions they must take to support the police in Northern Ireland,” he said following the meeting.

“I have conveyed to the prime minister the view that there will have to be delivery from Sinn Féin on supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, courts and the rule of law.

“Until this happens there will be no progress made.”

In the St Andrews timetable, the Belfast Assembly is to meet on Friday week to nominate Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness in the designate posts of First and Deputy First Minister respectively.

Failure to achieve this deadline would result in the dissolution of the Assembly and the collapse of the agreement, Mr Hain again made clear at the weekend, which would also mean there would be no elections.

A standoff is in place on this issue because the DUP wants Mr McGuinness to take a pledge of office on November 24th committing himself to supporting the PSNI, the courts and rule of law, even though the governments’ requirement for this pledge is March 26th when the Executive and Assembly are scheduled to be fully reinstated.

Sinn Féin however, insists no such pledge can be taken ahead of a special Sinn Féin ardfheis.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy has demanded that the two governments act decisively and bring an end to the “time wasting and delays” which had “dogged the process” since the St Andrews negotiations.

“They need to play their role,” he said. “If the governments are serious about fulfilling the timetable they have set themselves then they need call together a meeting of the Programme for Government Committee. The real work needs to start.

“They need to make it crystal clear that the Assembly is going to be brought together on November 24th for the purpose of electing the First and Deputy First Ministers. The St. Andrews document laid out a series of deadlines to be met on the road to full restoration on March 26th and it is now time for the governments to start delivering on these.”

However, a hardline DUP MP has prompted further pessimism about the prospects for progress in the North following an uncompromising speech last week.

Willie McCrea’s comments come as the governments agreed to carry forward the process following the conditional support of Sinn Féin and the DUP to the St Andrews proposals.

Willie McCrea said his party would only accept the devolution of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast once it trusted Sinn Féin “and not a day sooner”.

He also said it was inconceivable for this to happen for many, many years, “if indeed ever”.

Mr McCrea also said “the democratic process” could not be corrupted to suit what he called “the warped and twisted Sinn Féin/IRA mindset”.

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