23 April 2006

IRA 'no excuse' for assembly halt

BBC

NI politicians cannot continue to cite fears over IRA terrorism as a reason for not joining a power-sharing government, Peter Hain has said.

The secretary of state was speaking ahead of a report by the commission set up to monitor paramilitary activity.

The assembly is also to be recalled on 15 May with a 24 November deadline for electing a new executive.

Mr Hain said that Northern Ireland was "light years away" from where it had been.

Speaking on GMTV's Sunday Programme, Mr Hain said republicans were increasingly heading towards engagement in democratic politics.

He said the IRA was "cracking down" on criminal activity, although there were still problems with some dissidents as well as loyalist paramilitaries.

"But the overall picture is of a Northern Ireland light years away from where it was," he said.

"I don't think that any politician in Northern Ireland can use the excuse for much longer that the IRA poses a terrorist threat or that it's organised some central criminal conspiracy as a reason not to join in a power-sharing government over the coming period."

Asked whether November would herald a new era of power-sharing, Mr Hain said it was for the politicians to decide.

"They have to ask themselves a question: what is the future of democratic politics in Northern Ireland if they will not exercise the responsibilities for which they were elected?" he asked.

"It's up to them - we can't continue as we are and we won't."

The deadline would not be extended, Mr Hain added, and the DUP had a "historic destiny" to take their place.

On Thursday, the government published emergency legislation to enable the Northern Ireland Assembly to be recalled on 15 May.

It imposes an "immovable deadline" of 24 November in place for forming a power-sharing executive.

The government also confirmed the next assembly elections would be postponed until May 2008 if the executive is restored by this date.

The legislation is expected to become law by 8 May.

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

Three men accused of being implicated in it were later acquitted.

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