Friday, February 17, 2006


Crunch time for Ireland's north

Time to get the show on the road! According to the Belfast Telegraph, British PM Tony Blair is going to face the North's political parties with a make or break decision on future progress in the 6 counties.

When he eventually comes, he will put out a prospectus for the political future to the people as well as the parties, and pose the basic question: "Do you want an Assembly with powers or do you want to close the thing down?"

If there are grounds for proceeding short of full agreement, the un-suspension of the Assembly will proceed before the summer to create a forum of public debate for the negotiations.

"Because there is no real politics, people don't know what's going on," Secretary of State Peter Hain told the Belfast Telegraph.

And he added: "If these talks fail to get off the ground, there is the question sitting there of the Assembly allowances and you will find I am serious."

Mr Hain said: "We are absolutely determined there will be progress by the summer or it will be brought to an end."

The Secretary of State has told the parties he wants to crack the details of the workings of the Assembly by March 6, the follow-up date for today's talks about Assembly structures and the other strands.

Agreement at this level would provide for an interim Assembly and a fall-back position.

Mr Hain insists he's confident he can get agreement on Assembly structures "which are quite technical", although they will require consultations between the parties.

I think March 6th is a very optimistic date indeed and I'd be very surprised if substantial progress will be made in the short time between now and then, unless of course there is a mighty big push to break the stalemate happening behind the scenes.

Yesterday the British government published a Bill giving British Secretary of State Peter Hain the power to call elections early, meaning the contest scheduled for May 2007 could be held this year instead.

The Bill also covers a range of issues, from steps towards an all-Ireland electricity market to a local Minister of Justice.

The Secretary of State intends to table amendments in April to the basic NI Bill being published today. These will allow a new Assembly to be set up if a deal is finally done.

Official sources indicate that Mr Hain's proposals for Assembly changes would allow the DUP to claim that the Belfast Agreement is being replaced, although its basic architecture would remain.

I'm a bit uneasy about that last piece from the Belfast Telegraph. What kind of Assembly changes are we talking about here and how exactly can we be sure the "basic architecture" will remain?

Make or break political scenarios such as this seem to favour, in my opinion, Paisley's DUP. Their intransigence has brought them to this point after all. Still, with that being said, I think it's about time that we all faced the challenges that intransigent unionism has brought upon Ireland's north so we can move on from them at long last.

I think Blair needs to be prepared to play hardball with the DUP. They can't be allowed to halt progress any longer.

Hopefully common ground can be found by the other parties, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the UUP, as well as the two governments, so that the rejectionist unionists can be tackled and tackled effectively.

You've put alot of dilligent and demanding work into the peace process, Mr Blair. Please don't let Paisley and his pathetic band of puppets piss all that away.


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