20 March 2006

Pressure grows to 'finalise devolution'

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
20 March 2006

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have attempted to heap pressure on the DUP after Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted the two governments intend to "finalise" the devolution issue this year.

And he said it was time for Secretary of State Peter Hain to remind "these foreign meddlers" that internal affairs in Northern Ireland are "solely the concern" of the political parties and British Government.

The Taoiseach said, however, the failure to bring devolution to a conclusion had been a major theme in meetings in the United States and warned "going on indefinitely" would damage the credibility of the governments.

"At the end of the day the question is are people sincerely and genuinely interested in power sharing or are they not and that question will have to be answered this year," he told the BBC Politics Show.

"We are going to finalise this in 2006," he added, indicating that an Assembly in 'shadow' form without an Executive for a period was "possible".

His remarks came as the two governments worked on proposals for the restoration of the Assembly, which it is believed they want to put to the parties before the next Good Friday - the eighth anniversary of the Agreement.

Sinn Fein negotiator Martin McGuinness argued it was increasingly clear the DUP was becoming isolated "on many matters".

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said: "We have repeatedly stressed that the governments needed to stop sending the signal that the DUP are in control of the political calendar. We have been concerned that the governments would allow things to drift until a time and terms that suited the DUP."

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