10 May 2006

Sinn Féin to nominate Paisley as First Minister


10/05/2006 - 11:12:42

Sinn Féin will bid to have the Reverend Ian Paisley nominated as Northern Ireland First Minister when the North’s Assembly is reconvened next week, Gerry Adams insisted today.

As Stormont’s 108 Assembly members prepared to gather next Monday for the first time since they were elected in November 2003, Mr Adams said his party was focused on trying to get the power-sharing institutions under the Good Friday Agreement set up.

The West Belfast MP told his party’s Assembly team at Stormont that the Assembly proposed by the British government was an inferior model to the one which had previously operated.

And he also dubbed it the Peter Hain Assembly.

Mr Adams said: “After a thorough discussion we have agreed very strict guidelines and conditions for our party’s participation in the Peter Hain Assembly.

“Consequently, our focus will be on the restoration of the institutions. So, I intend to nominate the Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness for the position of First and Deputy First Ministers.

“If this is unsuccessful we will seek to return to this business at the earliest possible time.

“We will also participate in a business committee to ensure that the election of the First and Deputy First Minister and any business for the urgent preparation of the restoration of government is discussed by the Assembly.”

In their road map for restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that Assembly members would return on May 15 and would initially set about trying to elect a power-sharing government involving Mr Paisley's Democratic Unionists, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists and the nationalist SDLP.

However, if the Assembly was unable to form a multi-party devolved government within six weeks before the summer, the two Prime Ministers suggested that Assembly members would return in the autumn and be given a November 24 absolute deadline to try again.

The British government also proposed that in the meantime Assembly members could embark on a programme of work and take part in debates on issues which they would normally be handling under devolution, such as education, reform, health, water charges and planning.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has appointed former cross community Alliance Party deputy leader Eileen Bell as the new Assembly Speaker.

He has also proposed a programme for the first two weeks of the new Assembly.

MLAs will spend next Monday registering as unionists, nationalists or other under the Assembly designation system for voting.

He has also proposed that business leaders would meet the Assembly next Tuesday for a discussion outside the chamber and then MLAs would take part in their own debate about what they had just heard.

Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has also been invited to address Assembly members outside the chamber on May 22, highlighting the benefits of devolution.

MLAs would then go into the chamber to debate what Mr McConnell had said. However, today Gerry Adams dismissed the proposals as a talking shop Assembly.

“It has been suggested that the Peter Hain Assembly will provide the opportunity for the discussion of important issues like education reform, water charges, health and rates increases,” the West Belfast MP said.

“This would be pointless. In reality, the Peter Hain Assembly is powerless on all these issues.

“It would be nothing more than a talking shop.

“Of course, there is a way to effectively tackle these matters but that depends on local politicians taking up their responsibilities.

“We have an opportunity to send British ministers home and for local politicians, who know the issues, to take responsibility for deciding the future direction of health and education, the environment, policing and justice and much more.”

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