15 March 2006

Hain threatens to pull plug on the Assembly

Belfast Telegraph

By Brian Walker
15 March 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usPeter Hain has warned MPs he may wind up the Assembly by the summer if the parties fail to make political progress soon.

"We can't keep the Assembly going - we can't have a meaningless election to an Assembly that can't exist," he told MPs at Northern Ireland questions, shortly before he departed for St Patrick's Day talks and celebrations in Washington.

Showing impatience with the parties, he publicly ruled out for the first time accepting the SDLP's plan for a temporary executive of appointed members or existing ministers, reporting to the Assembly.

"There's no use asking me to back a policy when he hasn't persuaded any other party to support it," he told the SDLP's Eddie McGrady.

Mr Hain challenged Ian Paisley's hard line against Sinn Fein, when the DUP leader called on him to be prepared to say the republicans should be excluded from government.

The Secretary of State told Mr Paisley: "If you're saying that Sinn Fein is not committed to a peaceful path, you are not looking at the evidence in front of us.

"Are you asking me to bar an important section of the community? I can't agree with that. Sooner or later your party needs to talk to Sinn Fein, the second largest party."

However he agreed with shadow secretary David Lidington that no one should secure a place in government until they accept the legitimacy of the police and courts.

Also ruling out joint authority with the Republic if the Assembly fails - "nobody's talking about it" - he added: "I'm not anticipating failure. I think there's a real prospect of getting the Assembly up and running."

At PM's Questions, Tony Blair and Tory leader David Cameron crossed swords over a supposed threat of academic selection for 11 year olds that critics fear lies behind the Government's reforms for English secondary schools.

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