27 January 2006

Governments vow to restore Assembly

Irish Examiner

By Harry McGee, Political Editor
27 January 2006

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday committed to restoring devolution in the North this year even if the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) makes some negative findings about the IRA.

Speaking at Farmleigh House, where they issued a joint statement on the peace process, both leaders stressed their determination to renew efforts to find a final peaceable settlement.

Notably, both placed emphasis on the IRA’s July statement - and its subsequent decommissioning - as events of huge significance that opened up new possibilities.

Stressing the urgency, Mr Ahern said: “This is not a time for sitting back. It’s not a time for complacency. We cannot afford a prolonged stalemate.”

He continued: “Everybody needs to take risks. And everybody needs to take responsibility. The Good Friday Agreement is a formula for peace. There is no other way forward. There is no going back.”

Mr Blair also warned about the dangers of stasis. “A state of paralysis or stalemate is not a good place to be. And however benign or placid things may appear, whilst that stalemate continues, actually underneath the surface there are all the currents of instability present.”

Mr Ahern, when asked about the consequences of the IMC not giving the IRA a clean bill of health (the governments receive its latest report today), said the most important thing was continuing progress, a hint that the governments may view minor infractions by the IRA as not affecting the organisation’s overall bona fides in moving to a peaceful mode.

“It’s very hard to see every last little bit fall into place immediately. We watch this report. We watch the one in a few months’ time. It’s important that we see incremental progress and we do not see any sliding back. I hope there is no obvious and evident breaches of what was promised ... it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Mr Blair contended that nobody could argue that nothing had changed since last July. He portrayed the IRA actions since July as hugely significant.

The Taoiseach pointed out that most outstanding issues had been resolved. He identified policing, lawlessness in certain communities, and the question of criminality as some of those that needed to be resolved.

“The comfort zone that everybody can sit on their hands and it can just drift on out would just be a horrendous mistake in my view,” said Mr Ahern.

One of the major obstacles is the position adopted by the DUP. It says it will not enter into negotiations with Sinn Féin in the foreseeable future.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern and Northern secretary Peter Hain will begin chairing a round of talks with parties from February 6. Both SF and the DUP are holding conventions in February, at which stage their positions will become clear. In what was taken as a reference to the DUP, Mr Blair said the governments could not wait forever for people to make up their minds, a signal considerable pressure will be exerted on Ian Paisley’s party to enter talks.

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