Northern Ireland parties fail to form devolution committee

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Logo of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

After three days of talks, parties in Northern Ireland have come to a stalemate over the election of a chairperson for a committee to help setup a devolved government in Northern Ireland. It is now up to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain to choose the next course of action.

The committee, known as the Preparation for Government Committee, convened Monday to begin its first task: the election of a chairperson for the committee. Its main task however is to help set a roadmap for devolved government in Northern Ireland. The committee is made up of the two republican parties (Sinn Féin and SDLP), the two unionist parties (DUP and UUP) and the non-sectarianist Alliance Party.

Sinn Féin's proposal is for the chairpersonship to revolve between them and the Democratic Unionist Party. However, the DUP refused that proposal.

The DUP proposed that Speaker of the Assembly Eileen Bell should be the chairperson. However, Bell stated that it would inappropriate for her to take the post and refused. They also suggested the DUP MP for South Antrim William McCrea and Alliance Party leader David Ford as possible candidates.

Peter Hain called the refusal of parties to cooperate "frustrating."

Sinn Féin, SDLP and the Alliance Party have all blamed the DUP for the failure.

"Yet again the DUP, instead of helping to remove obstacles to devolution, have shown themselves to be nothing but obstructive and lacking in any spirit of co-operation, "said Sean Farren of the SDLP.

Mark Durkan, the leader of SDLP, has criticized both Peter Hain and the DUP and its leader, Ian Paisley on Monday.

"If the DUP is not prepared to do the business or give any substantive indication in the course of June, then the British government would be as well stopping the salaries at the end of June," said Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

"The practical reality is that the two biggest parties have not shown they are prepared to move forward at all." said David Ford, the leader of the Alliance Party.

"The prevarication and petty wriggling by the DUP is preventing the potential for progress and holding us all up to public ridicule." said Ulster Unionist Party's Alan McFarland.

On Monday, Ian Paisley asked for extension of the November 24 deadline fot two weeks. It was refused.

This is part of plan by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Toaiseach Bertie Ahern to set up a devolved government in Northern Ireland after its assembly was suspended in October 2002 over allegations of a IRA spy ring.

If a plan for devolved government is not setup by November 24, direct rule from London will continue with greater input from the Republic of Ireland.