The future of the northern Six Counties must lie in a local, accountable, devolved, power-sharing government, 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said at the conclusion of a meeting with the British Direct Ruler Peter Hain.
Mr Ahern met Mr Hain, who is also Secretary of State for Wales, on the fringes of a rugby match between Ireland and Wales in the Welsh capital, Cardiff.
“The election on March 7th must be about the future of Northern Ireland and that future lies in a locally accountable, devolved, powersharing Assembly and executive,” Mr Ahern said.
“This must be in place on March 26th. It is devolution or dissolution.”
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Hain said Sinn Féin’s support of policing left “no excuses for unionists to balk at power-sharing during the election or after”.
Mr Hain claimed he believed the DUP leadership wanted devolved government, despite what he described as “off-stage noises” by DUP members of parliament, Gregory Campbell and David Simpson.
He insisted the ‘deadline’ of devolution for March 26th was non-negotiable.
“We are determined to ensure that everybody understands with crystal clarity that March 26th is the day for devolution, or dissolution will follow.”
Mr Hain told a morning television chat show that the path to power-sharing would be “scratchy” but it would happen.
“I don’t expect any handshakes for the cameras. What I expect is a very scratchy election campaign and probably a bit scratchy thereafter,” he said.
“But the difference here, is not just the things I described, it’s that the conditions are in place for stable government with support for policing and the rule of law and a commitment to power-sharing on all sides.”
However, DUP MP Gregory Campbell yesterday reiterated a statement he made before Christmas in which he said it was “an insult to people’s intelligence” to expect power-sharing to be restored by March 26th.
He said the party now wanted to see a “series of delivery mechanisms” from Sinn Féin, including support of the PSNI on the ground by party members and activists and the “delivery” of those involved in the killing of Robert McCartney.
“They can say that [they support the police] and it is good that they did but it has to mean something in practice over a credible period of time.”
And he said the party was indifferent to the governments’ deadline of March 26th. “We have seen a series of other deadlines pass and we’re not going to pay any more attention to this latest one.”
Mr Campbell also said the DUP was awaiting delivery from the British government on “cultural issues, parades and confidence building measures for unionists”, including the issuance of British passports to those who were born in the 26 Counties but are now living in the Six Counties.