CONFUSION AND TERROR AT STORMONT
The peace process has survived one of its most dramatic days in recent
years despite a major political crisis and an almost simultaneous gun
and bomb attack at the Belfast Assembly.
Extraordinary scenes of unionist paramilitary Michael Stone staging a
serious assault on the Stormont parliamentary buildings outside Belfast
came as a political drama was unfolding within.
Ian Paisley's unexpected refusal to permit his designation as the DUP's
future candidate for First Minister in a power-sharing administration
in Belfast threw into chaos a carefully planned political fudge to
allow the continuation of the St Andrews process.
The governments had hoped the process, which grew out of negotiations
in Scotland last month, would lead to the revival of the political
institutions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement by March next year.
Legislation implementing the proposals had called for Sinn Fein and the
DUP to indicate their candidates for the two top posts in the restored
Announcing himself to the Assembly as a man of "plain speech",
Paisley said he would not fudge the issues nor engage in "word games".
On the issue of supporting the PSNI police, the rule of law and the
courts, the DUP leader accused Sinn Fein of failing to do so "up
"Rather they have equivocated, hesitated and by various means have
obstructed progress and continued to blame my party for the delay,"
said. Only when Sinn Fein backed the police and met "other commitments"
could progress be made.
"Delivery is in the hands of Sinn Fein and there can and will be
movement until they face up and sign up to their obligations.
"The government stressed before, during and after the St Andrews
that the twin pillars for agreement are DUP support for power-sharing
and Sinn Fein support for policing," he said.
"Clearly as Sinn Fein is not yet ready to take the decisive step
forward on policing, the DUP is not required to commit to any aspect of
power-sharing in advance of such certainty.
"Circumstances have not been reached that there can be a nomination
a designation this day," Dr Paisley said.
"I have made clear my aim, hope and desire for the future. Throughout
the DUP consultations, it was stated if and when commitments are
delivered, the DUP would enter government.
"At that time, there will fall to me a judgment consistent with the
policy that delivery on the ground is a basis for moving forward. Here
Dr Paisley's defiant statement was followed by a statement by Sinn Fein
president Gerry Adams, who proceeded with the nomination of his chief
negotiator, Martin McGuinness, as deputy first minister.
He told the chamber he agreed with Ian Paisley that it was "an
important day". Along with the DUP, he said republicans too faced
challenges in the months ahead. "But I believe that all the parties
this chamber and the two governments can overcome these challenges."
Mr Adams denounced "British direct rule" as "bad rule"
and said he
shared in the DUP wish to see local accountability at Stormont.
"The DUP say they have difficulty sharing power with republicans,"
told members. "Let me tell you that many, many nationalists and
republicans are concerned at the prospect of Sinn Fein sharing power
with the DUP. But that is also a challenge that we must rise to."
He said all had to accept responsibility for what had occurred.
"With goodwill we can create a space in which all the issues of
difference including policing and power-sharing, on poverty or any other
matter can satisfactorily be dealt with.
"Today is another day in the inch-by-inch process of putting the
political institutions back in place."
Mr McGuinness then spoke briefly to accept Mr Adams's nomination.
"If it is the will of the people and Sinn Fein I will represent the
people as deputy first minister. I will carry out my responsibilities
and duties conscientiously and will respect and promote the common good
of all our people at all times."
The political confusion deepened when Paisley's rejection was ignored
by the Speaker of the Assembly, who proceeded as if the nominations
process had been successful.
This was challenged by Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey and independent
unionist Bob McCartney.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan branded the proceedings a "hollow farce"
accused the British Direct Ruler Peter Hain of resorting to "remote
direction" of events in the Assembly.
"Language and logic has been turned inside out and on its head,"
Alliance leader David Ford branded Dr Paisley's statement as "the
longest 'maybe' in history ever".
Only the evacuation of Stormont in the aftermath of Stone's attack then
drew a curtain on the bitterly criticised attempts to launch the
transitional Assembly. The first meeting of the half-way-house
political body was intended to begin preparations for the return of the
full-blown Assembly following an election in March next year.
As politicians, staff and members of the media huddled in the rain
following the general evacuation, a desperate damage-limitations
exercise was underway by the Dublin and London governments to deal with
the turn of events.
But with Stormont occupied only by British Army bomb-disposal teams, a
group of twelve hardline DUP Assembly members issued a statement to
underline their belief that their party had refused to indicate a
nomination, effectively challenging the legality of the Assembly
This statement was signed by Nigel Dodds, William McCrea, Gregory
Campbell, David Simpson, Lord Morrow, Diane Dodds, Paul Girvan, Stephen
Moutray, Nelson McCausland, Mervyn Storey, Tom Buchanan and deputy
speaker Jim Wells.
However, by last night, a statement emerged from Mr Paisley, allowing
for his future nomination in the context of Sinn Fein agreeing to
certain demands and other conditions. This was declared sufficient by
the two governments to meet the requirements of the process and allow
the transitional Assembly to convene.
Mr Paisley himself said he had made his position clear on the
conditions of accepting the post of First Minister.
"The prime minister has made his decision about my speech and how
interprets it," Mr Paisley said.
"I have always said, as I said today in the assembly, what my intention
will be if policing and all of the other outstanding issues that are
before us are settled.
"Everyone know that in those circumstances after they are delivered
would accept the First Minister's nomination provided the election
results are favourable."
Mr Paisley's comments were welcomed by secretary of state Peter Hain,
who said he expected the DUP leader and Mr McGuinness to become First
and Deputy First Ministers if all sides endorsed the St Andrews
"Although there was some confusion in the assembly, caused not least
the attack on security, the fact that the leader of the DUP has
confirmed his intention to accept the First Minister's nomination,
provided outstanding issues including support for policing are
addressed, shows that we are still on track," Mr Hain said.
"However, there is a great deal of work to do and considerable efforts
need to be made by the DUP and Sinn Fein especially to move forward."
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called for the transitional Assembly to
be re-convened as quickly as possible.
He said he stood by his comments in the Assembly yesterday morning,
when he nominated Martin McGuinness for the position of Deputy First
Minister, and that he had spent the afternoon talking to the British
and Irish governments.
"I believe that all of the outstanding issues can be resolved if
political will is there. We can't be put off by what happened [at
Stormont on Friday], our focus has to be on securing the return of
fully functioning political institutions."
Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said his party would not
be deflected from the process and denied his party was being naive in
their approach to the DUP.
"We have set out our stall clearly. We have nominated for the position
of Deputy First Minister as required and we look forward to the
Assembly reconvening again on Monday to complete this work," he said.
"However we are not naive about any of this and all eyes remain on
DUP and the approach they will adopt to moving the process forward in
the coming weeks.
"After Monday's planned Assembly meeting the Programme for Government
Committee will come together.
"That is the forum where outstanding matters, including issues on
policing and justice, should be raised and resolved. But I have to say
the issue of policing and the resolution to it is as much an issue for
the British government and the DUP as it is for Sinn Fein.
"So we remain absolutely focused on the task of ensuring progress
made in the coming weeks and I firmly believe that if the necessary
political will and courage is displayed then we can bring about a
situation where all of the outstanding aspects of the Agreement
including the political institutions are finally delivered."