31 March 2006

Northern Ireland Assembly ‘to convene in May’


30/03/2006 - 23:37:10

Ireland and Britain plan to convene the Northern Ireland Assembly in May in a long-awaited push to revive joint administration in the north, political representatives said today.

In Dublin, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern briefed delegations from three Northern parties about a new Anglo-Irish plan for reviving power-sharing.

The Taoiseach and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are expected to make it public next week.

Politicians departing from Government Buildings headquarters said both leaders planned to convene the 108-member assembly – the body with the power to elect, or block, an administration – in mid-May.

These politicians, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the Anglo-Irish plan calls for the assembly to convene in mid-May, but then be suspended within six weeks for a summer negotiating session.

They said the assembly would convene again in the autumn, face suspension for more negotiations, before a deadline of November 24 for a decision on whether an administration could be elected.

The assembly has been mothballed since October 2002 when a previous coalition collapsed amid an IRA spying scandal.

Catholic leaders complained that the Anglo-Irish plan would give too much power to Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, the largest unionist party in the north. Paisley has insisted for years that he will not share power with Sinn Féin until the IRA disappears.

The IRA last year renounced violence for political purposes and handed over its weapons stockpiles to disarmament officials, but Paisley says the IRA also must disband and Sinn Féin accept the authority of Northern Ireland’s police force.

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