01 February 2006

DUP's devolution blueprint rejected

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
01 February 2006

Sinn Fein and the SDLP last night firmly rejected the DUP's blueprint for devolution falling short of a fully-fledged Executive.

But the Ulster Unionist leadership said it was prepared to examine the DUP's proposals calling for a start towards "full and accountable" devolution.

Sir Reg Empey concurred with the DUP's blueprint which made clear its preference for a "start-up model", allowing the Assembly maximum rather than minimum power "consistent with prevailing circumstances".

The UUP leader said: "We want to see the maximum amount of attainable devolution. We believe legislative and financial powers should be immediately devolved"

Sinn Fein, however, warned the DUP could not be allowed a veto with proposals which threatened to subvert the political process and delay the process of change.

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty said: "The two governments have an obligation to stand by the Agreement and its power-sharing core (including) the power-sharing executive.

"Sinn Fein will not countenance a move away from the fundamental principles which underpin the Good Friday Agreement."

And SDLP leader Mark Durkan warned the DUP needed to face the reality that they had no right to write off the Agreement which had the executive devolution the DUP wants to set aside at its heart.

"There is no acceptable level of direct rule and not once has the DUP today mentioned the North-South agenda, yet it too is a fundamental part of the Agreement."

The proposals - revealed in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday - amount to a first phase of administration at Stormont, suggesting a range of models, in what the DUP insisted was a "genuine attempt to lift the political process".

Insisting it wanted to create forward movement, the DUP said it believed an early start to the journey towards full devolution could be begun "without loss to anyone's position and with minimal effort".

The document, called Facing Reality, said setting aside executive devolution as a prospect for the forseeable future left a range of possibilities - but refused to give details of the party's definitive model.

The DUP, however, said its preference was for a "start-up model" allowing the 108 Assembly members maximum rather than minimum power "consistent with prevailing circumstances."

Mr Paisley said: "There is no point in this government attempting to force Unionists down a road they will not go. The very idea of a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein given all of their ongoing criminality and the existence of their terror organisation is just not tenable.

"We have outlined a realistic and viable process that will allow for the democratic community in Ulster to move forward with confidence.

"We are not setting expectations so high as to be unrealistic neither are we prepared to settle for something so low that it is without meaning or credibility."

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