29 December 2005

UNITY VOTE WON'T HAPPEN WITHIN DECADE OF DEVOLUTION - AHERN

Irish American Information Service

12/29/05 05:17 EST

Irish premier Bertie Ahern today said he hoped to see the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive lifted in 2006, and "the earlier the better".

Mr Ahern said he still hoped to see a united Ireland in his lifetime, but regarded peace and stability in the North as a more important objective.

Mr Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair are expected to start talks on the restoration of devolution with Northern Ireland's political parties following the publication at the end of January of a report on IRA decommissioning.

The Taoiseach today made clear that, if the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report backs up the IRA's claim that they have put all their arms beyond use, he will push for a speedy return to power-sharing at Stormont.

No referendum on unification could practically be held in the North for at least a decade after the restoration of the Belfast Agreement institutions, which were suspended in 2002 amid claims of a republican spy ring at Stormont, he said.

Mr Ahern described the IRA's announcement in July of a cessation of military activities, followed by the act of total decommissioning in September, as "hugely significant moves".

"If the IMC state that that is credible, that it has happened, then it will allow Tony Blair and myself to try again to get the parties to enter into meaningful discussions that will hopefully lead to the restoration of the Northern Assembly and executive and the North-South bodies at some time during 2006, and the earlier the better," he said.

Asked if he was hopeful of securing an agreement to enter power-sharing from the Assembly's two largest parties, Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, Mr Ahern said: "All we can do is use our powers of persuasion on the strength of the case. The reality is we have moved Northern Ireland from a place of daily killing. It is now a more stable place."

"That was done on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement... parties sharing power together on a cross- community basis, working to the agenda of the Good Friday Agreement for the betterment of the people of Northern Ireland," Mr. Ahern said.

Asked whether he agreed with the assessment of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that he would live to see Irish unification, Mr Ahern said: "Of course I would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime. I don't know whether I will or not. But what is more important is that we see peace and stability and people working together in Northern Ireland."

The way I look at this is that it is not important that it happens in the short run. I have said that the constitutional issue in Northern Ireland is now fixed and change can only be made by the wishes of the people of the North."

"To have that kind of election now or in the next few years would be entirely unhelpful. What happens in a decade's time or later on is another thing. What we need now is to have the institutions working and then people can make their own judgment in their own time," Ahern concluded.


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