TCM Irish Breaking News

DUP works on new devolution plan

21/09/2004 - 6:50:54 PM

The Democratic Unionists were tonight working on a new plan to bring devolution back to Northern Ireland as parties remained deadlocked over power sharing arrangements.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson and his negotiators were working through the night on a paper which will be presented during talks at Stormont tomorrow after British and Irish Government proposals failed to sway parties.

With the parties divided over the issues of ministerial accountability to the Assembly and the operation of cross border bodies, Mr Robinson insisted the DUP wanted to resolve the current problems.

“The community out there wants to see matters resolved,” the East Belfast MP said.

“We want to see matters resolved and the governments seem to share our view.

“Again I say what I said to you yesterday, we are not in the business of getting some temporary quick fix. We are in the business of getting something that is stable and lasting.

“I think that is far more important to the people of Northern Ireland.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern believe they made significant progress at talks in Kent last week on two of the issues which have dogged the political process since power sharing was suspended two years ago: IRA disarmament and an end to all paramilitary activity.

It is hoped the IRA will announce soon more weapons decommissioning moves which will be carried out in a more transparent way to satisfy unionists and with a clear timetable.

Unionists also want the Provisionals to declare their war is over and they are ending all paramilitary and criminal activity.

The main stumbling block remains the operation of the political institutions, with the DUP anxious to ensure when devolution returns individual ministers will be unable to disregard the views of the Assembly and cabinet colleagues when making decisions.

The governments proposed a ministerial code which would be endorsed by the Assembly and cover agreed categories of ministerial decisions which would require collective cabinet approval.

They also suggested unpopular ministerial decisions could be challenged through a petition of concern to the Assembly within seven days.

Where a decision failed to secure the backing of a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists, it would be referred back to the executive for further consideration within seven days.

The minister would then have to decide whether to alter his or her decision or proceed as originally proposed.

Mr Robinson indicated tonight the DUP was not convinced by the Government’s formula.

He responded: “We will, of course, after we have met the political parties and the British government overnight, produce our own paper which will be our best understanding of what might be possible in light of the meetings we have had.

“I think if the problem can be resolved by a process of the Assembly or a combination of the Assembly and the Executive, we’re content, but I am not convinced yet that they are at a point where they have presented us with a proposal that meets that criteria.”

The nationalist SDLP also expressed grave reservations, accusing the DUP of trying to impose unionist majority rule.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan repeated that his party would not tolerate changes which would undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

Party sources also denounced the Government’s plan as “a recipe for deadlock”.

Mr Durkan said: “What we are not going to do is be put in a situation where people are saying to us: ’Be reasonable, the IRA are going to give up all of their arms. You are going to have to give up some of your position’.

“’You have to give up some of your position on Strand One of the Agreement. You have to give up some of your position on Strand Two’.

“The IRA should never have had their arms in the first place. Our positions on Strand One and Strand Two go to the core of our principles.

“They are issues we negotiated into the Agreement in 1998 and we would not have had an agreement had those features not been in it.”

A senior Sinn Féin source was also not impressed, accusing the DUP of trying to limit its ministers.

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