November Deadline For NI Assembly
By Frank Shouldice, Contributor
June / July 2006
The Irish and British governments have set November 24 as a deadline for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Local government from Belfast is a key element of the Good Friday Agreement, and Dublin/London’s imposition of a deadline is another attempt to restart power-sharing between unionists and nationalists. However, in an atmosphere devoid of trust the majority parties on both sides remain locked in an ongoing dispute over highly contentious issues of criminality, disarmament and policing. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) continually reject Sinn Féin’s claims that the IRA are decommissioning arms in accordance with guidelines set down by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). For this and other reasons, the DUP virtually rejected the November deadline out of hand. “Entrance to government cannot be dependent on a date but only when terror and crime carried out by those allied to a political party is gone forever,” reacted DUP leader Rev. Ian Paisley who maintains that the IRA still operates as a criminal organization. Against such a backdrop the DUP refuses to share power with Sinn Féin. However, the latest IMC report will put the DUP under increased pressure. The IMC says categorically that from December to February there was solid evidence that the IRA was scaling down. “We have no indications in the last three months of training, engineering activity, recent recruitment or targeting for the purposes of attack,” said the IMC report. “There has been substantial erosion in the IRA’s capacity to return to a military campaign without a significant period of build-up, which in any event we do not believe that they have any intentions of doing.” Dublin and London will try to use the IMC findings as leverage to get the DUP back into a power-sharing arrangement. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams feels that it is up to the DUP to unblock the impasse. “Whatever the two governments do, there is no going back to the days of unionist domination because Sinn Féin will not allow it,” he said. “I say that as a gentle reminder to the DUP that the only way they will be part of institutions is on the basis of equality and the Good Friday Agreement.” With November still months away, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed a quicker solution. They invited Assembly parties to endorse by summer Rev. Paisley (DUP) as First Minister and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin) as Deputy First Minister. As negotiations drag on, this is unlikely to succeed and the November deadline seems more realistic. In the event that political parties in Northern Ireland fail to elect an Executive, the Assembly will be formally dissolved and direct-rule from London will be restored.