Governments must set out new timetable immediately

A Special Meeting of the Alliance Party Executive was held over the weekend to discuss the implications of the postponement of the Assembly Elections.

The overwhelming view of the meeting was that the Government should now move to immediately convene the overdue (paragraph 8) Comprehensive Review of the Agreement and set a firm date for autumn elections.

Speaking after the meeting, Alliance Party Leader, David Ford commented:

“The worst thing that the two governments could do at this is to put

Northern Ireland on the back-burner for a ‘cooling-off’ period.

“Part of the problem in agreeing a deal in the run up to the original date for elections lay with the governments’ leaving the process for too long after the suspension of the institutions in October 2002.

“Politicians need quickly to get away from the usual round of recriminations, and to become engrossed in some meaningful work.

“While Alliance remains opposed to the postponement of the elections, it is absolutely vital that the time available now is used to resolve all the outstanding issues with the Agreement. The Government should also set a firm date for elections in the autumn, and stick to it.

“It would be an absolute tragedy for the institutions to be restored post-elections, only to be tripped up once again through entirely foreseeable problems.

“The Agreement provides the terms for its own review, four years on from when the Agreement came into effect. Such a review would not constitute the renegotiation called for by the DUP, but would rather represent the opportunity for mid-course corrections to aspects of the Agreement that have not worked as anticipated.

“There are a number of problems – such as the Communal Designations and Voting System, Executive formation, and safeguards – that need to be addressed.

“When the Prime Minister and Taoiseach meet in Dublin on Tuesday, it is vital that they agree and set out a timetable and structure for the long overdue comprehensive review, to culminate in the election of a new Assembly.”

Expressing her frustration at the cancellation of the May Assembly election, Eileen Bell, Alliance Deputy Leader, said that the people of Northern Ireland had been totally disenfranchised by the undemocratic actions of President Blair.

” No-one has a right to take the basic right to vote away from the people. This is particularly true after a period of five years during which the wishes of the people have often been disregarded by the four parties in government, when they perceived a clash between the good of the people and their own narrow party political advantage.

” One does not put off an election because one doesn’t like the prospective outcome.

” We in the Alliance Party sincerely hope that this opportunity will now be used to immediately carry out a review of the institutions, particularly the Assembly, and to improve the democracy therein. At present that particular institution is organised on extremely sectarian grounds; the question of members having to designate as either unionist or nationalist for their votes to count fully is obviously totally unacceptable.

” I would have to say that the two Sinn Fein ministers did quite a good job with their departments, allowing for the financial restraints upon them, but there was always the thought that they were backed by the threat of the gun in the dark recesses around them. This must not be permitted to continue.

” The idea that Sinn Fein portray, that they have given up so much is, of course, absolute rubbish. Giving up criminal behaviour is simply starting to approach normal decent behaviour.

‘What part of all activities don’t you understand, Gerry? What part of violence don’t you understand Gerry? You and the IRA very clearly avoided stipulating what exactly you were undertaking not to do, dare I say, stop?

” In the same way, so-called loyalists have absolutely no right to be offered any understanding or tolerance while they refuse to give up all their arms, and those who represent them would be better spending their time achieving total decommissioning on their side rather than telling Sinn Fein how to behave!

” What the people of Northern Ireland voted for, the last time we were actually allowed to vote, was for peace; real peace to be achieved by all our representatives sitting down together, and working together to achieve a fair and open system of government for all.

“Sectional interests must be put out of the picture; the people need and want equal opportunities for all, equal rights for all, and peace and prosperity for all.”

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