IOL: Murphy resists demand to lift Assembly suspension

Murphy resists demand to lift Assembly suspension
30/11/2003 - 16:27:04

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy tonight resisted nationalist demands to lift the suspension of the power-sharing Assembly.

Mr Murphy said it would be highly unlikely that the parties could agree to form an Executive within the six week time period.

Both Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Mark Durkan, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party have urged the British government to restore devolution as soon as possible.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said: “I don’t think we should unsuspend and restore it now. I don’t think that would be wise.

“Everybody knows that if we restored the Assembly tomorrow then we would have six weeks according to the rules to establish a government. It doesn’t take a political genius to work out it’s highly unlikely.”

The prospect of an early return to devolution appears further away than ever with the success of the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionists in Wednesday’s Assembly elections.

But DUP Deputy leader Peter Robinson denied today that he belonged to a party of wreckers.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy, Mr Robinson insisted his anti-Agreement party had a positive agenda.

“Do they really believe voters in Northern Ireland would have voted for a party of wreckers?

“The reality is that we have a positive agenda, an agenda for change.” The DUP has insisted that the Good Friday Agreement must be re-negotiated to create a new settlement acceptable to unionists.

But Mr Murphy said that the fundamental principles of the Agreement must remain.

He is writing to all the parties inviting them to take part in a review of the Agreement next month.

He said nothing could alter the principles of powersharing between nationalism and unionism, north-south relationships or that the principle of consent was central to politics in Northern Ireland.

“The Agreement says we should review the operation, the workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

“What it gives is an opportunity to the parties in the Assembly to talk about the issues that affect them.”

This is unlikely to satisfy the DUP which became the largest party in the Assembly with 30 seats with its call for a “fair deal”.

Mr Robinson said that republicans must not be allowed in government until the IRA is dismantled.

“They must give up violence. They must stand down their terror machines. They must hand over their weapons of destruction that have been held illegally.”

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared to offer a ray of hope, stating there was scope for discussion of many of the DUP’s issues with the present peace process.

He said: “The election has thrown up some imponderables that we just have to now manage our way through but that is the will of the people of Northern Ireland and now the two governments have to get on with it.”

The DUP had identified shortfalls in the Agreement over accountability, stability, efficiency and effectiveness that could be looked at, he said.

“They are issues that I have no problem dealing with. I think stability is a fair enough issue for he DUP to argue about … with four suspensions of the institutions during the course of the Agreement.”

But he warned the DUP that “success brings responsibility” and said progress would have to be inclusive if the British government was to be persuaded it was worth reviving the devolved institutions.

“What the Irish government would like to see is that we now get into this review. It can’t change fundamentals but it can deal with the operation of the last number of years of the agreement.

“Hopefully we can then move into the period ahead – we are probably talking about into January, when we can try to negotiate these items and move forward.”

“I respect everybody’s mandate, including the DUP, and I look forward to trying to build on the success that has been the peace process.”

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, whose party secured 27 seats in last week’s poll, could face a leadership challenge when his Assembly party meets tomorrow.

He faces a showdown with his bitter rival, Jeffrey Donaldson, who is calling on him to resign. Supporters of Mr Trimble have called on the Lagan Valley MP and MLA to support the leadership or leave the party.

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