26 March 2006

MLAs 'to face assembly ultimatum'

BBC

The political process in NI is reaching "a crunch time", Secretary of State Peter Hain has warned.

Mr Hain said plans to "bridge the gap" between unionists who want a shadow assembly and nationalists who oppose this would be announced within weeks.

He warned the gate "at the end of that bridge" would either "open to devolved government" or close, meaning assembly allowances and salaries would stop.

"There will be no get-out clause of an early election," he added.

"People have to make their minds up. It is a crunch time."

Mr Hain told the BBC's Politics Show: "This assembly has been in existence for nearly four years - they have all been paid not to do their job. It has cost over £80m.

"We can't continue like this. Everybody agrees with that. This plan will provide that bridge between the two positions.

"Nobody will be able to avoid taking a decision. That would be the choice that confronts them."

Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive collapsed in October 2002 following the arrests of three men over the "Stormontgate" affair.

In December 2003, the House of Lords agreed that assembly members would continue to receive a reduced salary of £31,817 a year as they had "representative" duties and constituency offices to run.

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