12 December 2005

Secretary of State threatens to scrap the Assembly

Belfast Telegraph

**Proving once again (as always) that the 'Assembly' lives only at the whim of the brits

Hain: We have to end this charade

By Noel McAdam
12 December 2005

The Government last night threatened to scrap the Assembly if a devolution deal is not worked out before the next election in the province.

Secretary of State Peter Hain said there would be no point in the "charade" of electing politicians to an Assembly that does not exist.

His warning effectively set a deadline for a successful conclusion to new negotiations on the restoration of Stormont and a power-sharing Executive this side of the next Assembly elections - due in May, 2007.

But his comments came as controversy over the alleged 'spy ring' scandal charges being dropped continued, with unionists insisting the development makes the achievement of an acceptable devolved administration more rather than less difficult.

But Mr Hain insisted: "We've really got to end this paralysis and get things up and running.

"We cannot have (the politicians) standing again for a suspended Assembly."

The Secretary of State said MLAs are doing constituency work but were not fulfilling the legislative function for which they were elected.

"It isn't a threat, it is a statement of fact," he told the BBC Politics Show.

Speaking from his constituency in Wales, Mr Hain argued it would be inconceivable if candidates in a May, 2007 election were standing for an Assembly that did not exist - as had already happened at the last election.

To do so would only undermine public confidence.

Mr Hain also slammed unionist and republican reactions to the collapse of the 'Stormontgate' allegations - unionists suspecting his or Prime Minister Tony Blair's hand in the affair and republicans viewing it as a huge conspiracy theory - as "absolute fatuous nonsense".

But Mr Hain also revealed he had been told about the decision not to proceed with the case "in the public interest" a few days before the unlisted Crown Court hearing last Thursday.

He had not been consulted, however, and it was now a matter for the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to decide whether or not he should make a further statement - but Mr Hain expected he would want to stand by the prosecution service and the Crown Court judge.

"The good name of the prosecution service for Northern Ireland, launched in June, should not be called into question by politicians or, dare I say it, journalists," Mr Hain added.

Mr Hain also scoffed at suggestions the hearing had been deliberately timed to coincide with the Queen's visit to the province which included her historic first meeting with Irish President Mary McAleese on the island of Ireland.

"We have an independent judiciary and it acted independently," he said.

The DUP meanwhile suggested it would pursue the affair through the courts as well as attempting to persuade the Attorney General to make a further clarification.

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