18 April 2006

Hain: No joint rule in North


18/04/2006 - 18:51:42

Northern Secretary Peter Hain tonight denied there was any prospect of the Irish and British governments jointly ruling the North in the event of no power-sharing government at Stormont.

As the British government prepared to introduce an emergency Bill in Westminster on Thursday to facilitate efforts to revive power sharing this year, the Northern Secretary reassured Conservative and Democratic Unionist MPs that there were no plans for joint authority from Dublin and London.

Mr Hain told Shadow Northern Ireland spokesman David Lidington: “There is no question of joint authority, absolutely no question of joint authority or joint government at all.

“There is plenty of scope for practical co-operation provided through the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement endorsed by a vote by the people of Northern Ireland, cross border co-operation across a number of areas on energy, the economy, on child offending, on getting rid of unfair mobile-phone roaming charges and having a single all-island mobile phone rate.

“On all those issues and many more, there is tremendous scope for future co-operation and, indeed, much of it is already taking place but there is no question of joint authority at all.”

Mr Hain was responding to concerns that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's blueprint for reviving devolution by November 24 this year offered a bigger stick to unionists than republicans if they were unable to meet the deadline set for forming a multi-party executive this year.

Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson accused Mr Ahern and Mr Blair of issuing a crass, foolish threat to Unionists which was contrary to the concept of any principle of consent in the North.

Mr Robinson told MPs today: “I hope the Secretary of State will make it very clear that there will be no constitutional change (to the status of Northern Ireland within the UK) as a result of the Provisional IRA not meeting the deadline that is set for November 24.”

The East Belfast MP also claimed that one of the weaknesses in the plan for reviving devolved government in the North by November 24 was its belief that unionists could be forced into a government featuring Sinn Féin by imposing a timetable for progress.

“The issue is not to be determined by the clock but whether various conditions have been met,” the former Stormont Regional Development Minister insisted.

“It will be determined by whether paramilitary and criminal activity has ended and that is the critical factor as far as this party is concerned.

“We want to move into devolution. We want to have an executive in Northern Ireland but the principle of the mandate that we have indicates that we can only share power with those who are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.”

Both Mr Robinson and Mr Lidington noted the roadmap from the two governments for devolution had been released in between two events in which the Provisional IRA was suspected of having involvement: the murder of former Sinn Féin official turned spy Denis Donaldson in Co Donegal and a heist on a lorry carrying vodka.

Mr Hain, however, insisted that it was significant that in its Easter statement issued last week the Provisional IRA distanced itself from former republicans engaged in criminal activity.

Mr Hain told MPs that the emergency bill, which would be rushed through parliament over the next week, needed to be passed quickly to enable MLAs to have two attempts at forming a power-sharing executive this year.

The Assembly will be recalled on May 15 with the express purpose of trying to elect First and Deputy First Ministers at Stormont on a cross-community basis and a power-sharing government within six weeks.

However, if it was apparent that no executive could be formed before the summer recess, all 108 Assembly members would be given a further 12-week period in the autumn to complete the task.

The Northern Secretary also confirmed the Assembly would be given the opportunity before the formation of an executive to consider issues affecting their constituents including water charges, education reform, the economy and the review of public administration.

Orders in Council affecting Northern Ireland could also be referred to the Assembly, he signalled, for consideration.

Mr Hain added: “Ministers will naturally be willing to take account of views on such matters, if they are provided on a cross-community basis.

“It would be preferable to all democrats that the parties were quickly to take up the mantle of government so that the decisions which affect the every day lives of people in Northern Ireland were taken by locally accountable politicians.

“However, in the meantime, I will not delay in implementing vital reforms which this government considers essential to the better running of Northern Ireland.

“While these decisions may not always be popular, they are necessary in the public interest, to put Northern Ireland on the road to becoming world-class.”

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