18 March 2006

'No executive' NI assembly plan

BBC

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Mr Ahern insisted: "We are going to finalise this in 2006"

A Northern Ireland Assembly may operate for some months without an executive, the Irish premier has told the BBC.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the aim was to have a fully functioning assembly with an executive as envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement.

However, he said a deadlock over the formation of that executive should not stop the assembly from operating while there is work for it to do.

He made his remarks in an exclusive interview with the BBC's Politics Show.

It comes as the British and Irish governments prepare to unveil their blueprint for restoring Stormont.

Mr Ahern said he wanted to give the assembly a chance and it would not be a meaningless interim assembly.

He suggested the assembly could operate over the summer and into the winter.

However, he warned that time was limited and that if there was no agreement on an assembly with an executive, Stormont would not operate into next year.

"At the end of the day, we want to get to a position where we'll have the assembly operating fully and functioning as it was designed in the Good Friday Agreement and we want to get the executive doing the same."

He added: "What we have said is that 2006 has to call it. So we'll set out our plan, but I think we do not intend to go into another winter in this position, but at the same time if politicians want some time to debate issues and to go through things we'll listen to that.

"There are no two better listeners (than Mr Ahern and UK PM Tony Blair). We've spent the last nine years listening to debate."

'A huge tragedy'

Mr Ahern said "if we don't agreement on the executive you can't have an executive".

"But that shouldn't stop the assembly operating for a period of time while there is work for it to do and that could take a few months."

The Irish premier said that if "we cannot get the institutions functioning as per the Good Friday Agreement this year, then we'll all have to think again".

"But that would be a huge tragedy and I do not want to find myself in that position."

Earlier on Saturday, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said the British and Irish governments would take the decisions on Northern Ireland if NI politicians did not share power.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme, Mr Ahern said London and Dublin would adopt "an intergovernmental approach".

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said any such move would be "completely unrealistic".

"It's time Dublin stopped being the bully boy and worked with the rest of us," he said.

Devolved government at Stormont was suspended in October 2002 following allegations of a republican spy ring at the Northern Ireland Office.

A full interview with Bertie Ahern will be featured on The Politics Show at 1230 GMT on Sunday on BBC One.

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