Legislation lifts agreement deadline
Proposed legislation published in London today has confirmed the
British government will not require the Belfast Assembly to nominate
the First and Deputy First Ministers by the previously declared
deadline of November 24.
Instead, two main political parties, the DUP's Ian Paisley and Sinn
Fein will name their selections for the posts -- understood to be Mr
Paisley himself and Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness -- by
the end of next week.
The DUP had refused to participate in the nomination and swearing-in of
the joint heads of the local power-sharing administration unless Sinn
Fein declared its support for the police. The published legislation
will allow for negotiations to continue beyond the end of next week,
after which the Dublin and London governments had threatened to abandon
the process entirely.
Accoding to the revised schedule, a 'new' shadow assembly will convene
in Stormont on November 24 and will hold gatherings both before and
after Christmas. This assembly will be formally dissolved on January
30 before elections on March 7 in preparation for the full devolution
of powers from London to Belfast on March 26.
The "Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill" also detailed
wording of a controversial ministerial pledge to be taken on March 26,
by which time the two governmentss expect a special Sinn Fein
conference will have approved the pledge.
It would require all Ministers to uphold the rule of law based on
the principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability,
including support for policing and the courts as set out in paragraph
six of the St Andrews proposals.
This paragraph requires their full support for the PSNI police and the
justice system and their active encouragement of full co-operation with
the PSNI. It also demands active support for all other justice and
policing institutions, including the North's Policing Board.
Among the other clauses in the Bill are proposals to:
* Require the Belfast Assembly to report to the British government
before March 27 2008 on what preparations it intends to make for the
transfer of policing and justice powers to the power-sharing Executive;
* Make Assembly members who designate themselves at the first sitting
as unionists, nationalists or other remain under those labels for the
lifetime of that Assembly;
* Enable 30 Assembly members to petition the Speaker to refer back to
the Executive a decision taken by a devolved minister or junior
minister which they believe is "of public importance";
* Change the date for the ban on academic selection from November 25 to
* Allow the Policing Board to reconstitute District Policing
Partnerships, work with the PSNI to advise on local policing needs, in
a bid to ensure they properly reflect the political make-up of local
councils. This last clause is understood to allow for Sinn Fein
councillors to join the DPPs which they have previously refused to
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams returned from London this morning after
what the party described as 48 hours of "intense and detailed
discussions" with the British government.
"We are satisfied that in the discussions over the last 48 hours
we have kept the British government to the fundamentals of the Good
Friday Agreement," said Mr Adams.
"There has been progress and the process is moving in the right
direction, even if it is inching forward. The reality is that a lot of
this could happen much more quickly if the necessary political will was
shown on all sides. That is what we are pushing for.
"A series of meetings of the Programme for Government Committee are
to begin next week and the Assembly is due to be convened on November
24th where parties entitled to do so will put forward their nominees.
"Sinn Fein's focus is on restoring the power-sharing and all-Ireland
political institutions so that they can deal with the issues that are
impacting adversely on people in their daily lives. I believe we are
closer to achieving that this morning than yesterday morning.
"However there remain outstanding issues which must be dealt with
the British government and the DUP."
Commenting on the clause on policing which is in the Ministerial pledge
Mr. Adams said:
"From a broadly nationalist and republican perspective there will
focus on the policing clause in the Ministerial code and the wording
put forward by the British in legislation as a concession to the DUP.
"I would ask nationalists and republicans who are obviously concerned
at this issue to judge all of this in the round.
"Any pledge for Ministerial position only applies when people become
Ministers. That does not arise until March 26th of next year. This
provides time for the work which is still ongoing, around the issue of
the timetable for the transfer of policing from Westminster and the
departmental model, to conclude. And of course any decision Sinn Fein
takes on this issue will be a matter for this party."