29 January 2006

Assembly may get spring recall

Sunday Times

29 January 2006

THE government is considering recalling the suspended Stormont assembly in late spring whether or not there is agreement between the parties on how to move forward, writes Liam Clarke.

This would give the local parties six weeks to form an administration or risk losing their salaries and allowances. If full executive power sharing was not agreed, the parties could opt for a voluntary coalition, or a legislative assembly in which executive functions are taken by British ministers or appointed officials.

Such an arrangement would need special legislation, but would be acceptable to the government if it was seen as temporary. Officials have indicated that the cut-off date would be May 2007, when new elections must be held for the assembly.

The strategy of setting a date for the assembly to meet has won the support of the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Although they differ in the details, the parties have urged the government to put the system to the test.

The British and Irish governments are bracing themselves for some negative political fallout from this week’s Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report. It is expected to find that, although the security situation has improved markedly, the IRA and all other paramilitaries are still involved in organised crime. The DUP has already said that this rules out any hope of them forming an administration with Sinn Fein in the immediate future.

Attention is already switching to the next IMC report, due in April.

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