01 March 2006

DUP to block return to Good Friday devolution deal


01/03/2006 - 14:52:27

The Democratic Unionists will veto any attempt to go back to the type of devolution which existed in the North under the Good Friday Agreement, a senior member of the party warned today.

As Sinn Féin travelled to Dublin to discuss British and Irish government plans to revive the Northern Ireland Assembly, Democratic Unionist MEP Jim Allister accused Gerry Adams’ party of adopting the same belligerent attitude in talks as republican protesters who opposed the loyalist "Love Ulster" rally in Dublin on Saturday.

He also told Queen’s University’s Democratic Unionist Association in Belfast if there was to be a return to devolution it would have to be a radical departure from the previous model at Stormont.

Mr Allister said: “Generically devolution is desirable, but not essential.

“In the Belfast Agreement form it is patently unacceptable, inherently unstable and destructive of unionist interests.

“We saw that on the three execrable occasions when it was foisted upon us - ministers running departments as fiefdoms, shutting hospitals at will, abolishing the 11 plus in pique, and all in defiance of the elected Assembly.

“Malevolent direct rule has nothing to teach Sinn Féin as to how to abuse ministerial office.

“Little wonder that the DUP is resolute that we’re not taking Ulster back to such misery.

“We do have a veto and we will use it!

“No, if there is to be devolution, then, it must be on a fresh and radically different basis, where the Assembly, not the ard fheis, has the final say on ministerial decisions.”

Talks sources indicated last night that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern have been working on a road map to devolution which will be put to the Northern Ireland Assembly parties in the coming weeks.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain will sound out the province’s politicians at meetings on March 8 on legislative changes to the way the Assembly will operate in the future in the event of there being a return to power sharing.

These could be included in the Northern Ireland Bill currently winding its way through Parliament.

It is believed proposals will then be put to the parties on the path back to devolution.

But while British government sources insist London and Dublin have yet to agree the exact shape of these proposals, nationalists and unionists suspect they will involve a shadow Assembly with the 108 MLAs returning to a debating chamber or to possibly scrutinise the work of British ministers through committees.

The DUP has advocated a Shadow Assembly as part of a two-phase return to devolution.

However, Sinn Féin and the SDLP have been more critical of the proposal.

Ahead of their meeting with Mr Ahern, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said the Shadow Assembly was unacceptable and he has called on both governments to take a firmer line in defence of the Agreement against what he called negative unionism.

Mr Allister said today if other parties weren’t interested in securing durable and workable devolution, then the DUP should signal it was moving on without them.

“Why mark time for the insatiable and irreformable Sinn Féin or an SDLP incapable of recognising opportunity?” he asked.

“ We can devote all our energy to better integrating the North within the UK and with an uncertain government majority in place and maybe a hung Parliament again in prospect, opportunity beckons.”

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