03 February 2006

Salary threat over Assembly 'paralysis'

Belfast Telegraph

03 February 2006

The average £85,000 going in salaries and allowances to Assembly politicians will not continue to be paid if the "state of paralysis" on the restoration of the institutions continues.

That was the warning issued in Dublin yesterday by Northern Secretary Peter Hain who said it was not a case of him "wielding a big stick" but of the people demanding that something was done.

Mr Hain said the total cost of the Assembly since it was suspended three years ago was £78m, adding: "We can't keep spending this money for nothing."

"It's not possible to have an Assembly elections in May 2007 when there is not an Assembly to elect representatives to," he added.

"No serious political figure in Northern Ireland disagrees with me on these points."

The Northern Secretary played down differences in the respective reports on IRA activity by the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) and the Independent International Commissioning on Decommissioning (IICD), headed by General John de Chastelain. "I don't see a real difference between them," he said. "I got exactly what I expected in the IMC report.

The bigger picture is that things have changed massively even in the past few months," he said.

Mr Hain said he accepted that Ian Paisley and the DUP would not be "galloping into Government tomorrow". But he said he did believe that there was "an appetite" to move things forward, adding that nobody believed the status quo was sustainable.

He felt that, like the other parties, Dr Paisley wanted to see the Assembly up and running again.

Mr Hain said that in next week's talks at Stormont, he looked forward to hearing the views of all the parties, including the DUP who had put forward a "very interesting" set of proposals. "2006 is a make or break year for Northern Ireland," he said.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he recognised there were still problems to be resolved before the Northern institutions could be restored.

Referring to the IMC findings, he said: "Obviously there are issues in the report where we would like to see no blips whatever.

"We don't want to see anything about references to arms or criminality or any such issues," he said.

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