06 April 2006

Deadline for NI devolution plan


Mr Blair and Mr Ahern have outlined their blueprint for devolution

Northern Ireland Assembly members have been given until 24 November to set up a power-sharing executive.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern travelled to Northern Ireland to unveil their blueprint for restoring devolution.

They confirmed the assembly will be recalled on 15 May with parties being given six weeks to elect an executive.

If that fails, the 108 members get a further 12 weeks to try to form a multi-party devolved government. If that attempt fails, salaries will stop.

The British and Irish governments would then work on partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement.


On Thursday, Mr Blair said: "We have today set out a framework beginning with the recall of the assembly on the 15th of May and running up to November of this year for that ultimate decision to be made.

"At that point we close the chapter ...or we close the book."

Mr Ahern said: "It is time to talk and to agree, people are entitled to firm assurances that if there is deadlock that it will not be allowed to continue indefinitely."

Speaking before the announcement, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said that he did not expect a deal to be completed by mid May, but that there had to be agreement well before the end of the year.

The Stormont government has been suspended since October 2002

"Taxpayers in Northern Ireland and the voters of Northern Ireland will not stand for years and years of continuing to pay politicians £85,000 each in salary and allowances to not do their jobs," he said.

"This assembly has cost some £85m to keep idle since it was suspended in October 2002 and we have got to bring this to a head."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has acknowledged the difficulties facing himself and Mr Blair have been compounded by the murder of Mr Donaldson in County Donegal.

Despite denials of involvement in Tuesday's murder, the DUP is blaming the IRA and that has pushed the prospect of power-sharing even further away.

The prime minister and the taoiseach are also meeting church and business leaders during their visit to the city of Armagh.

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

Hopes of a deal were overshadowed by the murder of the former Sinn Fein member and British spy Denis Donaldson.

Denis Donaldson was one of three men later acquitted of charges linked to those allegations.

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