28 October 2005

Assembly members set to meet

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
28 October 2005

Two years after they were elected, all 108 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are scheduled to meet for the first time at Stormont.

However, the gathering won't be the long-delayed official opening of the Assembly.

Instead, MLAs have been invited to the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings on Monday for a budget briefing from direct rule Finance Minister Lord Rooker.

The meeting is expected to be the first in a series of direct discussions between the direct rule team and the Assembly as a whole.

More briefings are expected to take place before Christmas.

Those talks are likely to include the upcoming shakeup of public services under the Review of Public Administration, which is due to be released next month.

MLAs may also be consulted about water charges and other measures.

In a speech last month, Secretary of State Peter Hain set out his intention to make a series of "tough decisions" that could no longer wait for the return of power-sharing.

As part of that drive, he took the unusual step on Tuesday of announcing budget details himself, including the 19% rise in the regional rate.

The Review of Public Administration is due to be unveiled next month.

Monday's meeting is not being held in the main Stormont chamber because the Assembly remains a long way from being formally constituted.

The first official sitting of the Assembly would trigger a six-week timetable for selecting an Executive or holding a new election.

And with the DUP and Sinn Fein still a long way from reaching an agreement over power-sharing, Ministers won't be rushing into that scenario.

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