Friday 24 November 2006
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Madam Speaker: Members, it is a requirement of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 that a meeting of the Transitional Assembly be held on Friday 24 November 2006. The Secretary of State has, in accordance with the Act, directed that the Assembly meet at 10.30 am to consider business as it appears on the Order Paper.
Proceedings of the Assembly shall be conducted in accordance with Standing Orders and any directions made by the Secretary of State.
Standing Orders have been determined initially by the Secretary of State and notified to me. Members have been issued with a copy of Standing Orders, and further copies are available in the Rotunda or from the Business Office.
I wish to confirm that, in accordance with paragraph 10 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, each person who was a Member of the Assembly established under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 2006 shall be deemed to have signed the Roll of Membership and to have taken his or her seat in accordance with Standing Orders.
A Member’s designation of identity in the 2006 Assembly, immediately before schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 came into force, shall be deemed to be that Member’s designation of identity for the purposes of this Assembly, except where a Member changes his or her designation in accordance with Standing Order 5.
Before proceeding with today’s business, I remind Members that the role of the Transitional Assembly is to take part in preparations for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement.
Mr Burnside: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As this is a new legal and constitutional Assembly, and it is the first day of its meeting, can you give me a ruling on whether I can raise a point about representation of religious chaplains to this Assembly? In the spirit of an inclusive Assembly, and as the Free Presbyterian Church has recently met the leadership of the DUP, opposing the Sinn Féin/DUP St Andrews Agreement, would it not be better before — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. I am standing. Thank you, Mr Burnside. I have listened to what you have said, and I would be pleased if you will speak to me later. Your point is not part of today’s business, but it is certainly one worth noting. Thank you for making it.
Are we all sitting comfortably? I will continue. [Interruption.]
Before I proceed, I will repeat what I have said, in case Members have forgotten. Before proceeding with today’s business, I remind Members that the role of the Transitional Assembly is to take part in preparations for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement. I expect Members of the House to carry out that role with respect for one another and for the dignity of the House.
For my part, I intend to do my utmost to maintain respect for the dignity of the House, and I trust that I can rely on Members’ co-operation in maintaining good order in the Chamber.
Indication of intention to nominate First Minister by the largest political party of the largest political designation and Deputy First Minister by the largest political party of the second largest political designation
Madam Speaker: Before we begin the statements, I wish to explain how I propose to conduct proceedings. Members will note that, since the Business Committee met this morning, I have received a further direction from the Secretary of State, and I am proceeding in accordance with that direction.
The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 provides for the nomination of a First Minister designate and a Deputy First Minister designate, who will become First Minister and Deputy First Minister on restoration. It is envisaged that this process will take place after the election to the Northern Ireland Assembly scheduled for 7 March 2007.
In advance of that election, I invite the nominating officer from the largest party of the largest designation to indicate his intention to honour his duty under the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 in relation to the nomination of a First Minister designate after the Assembly election, subject to the outcome of that election and other necessary conditions being satisfied.
I call Dr Paisley.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: This statement is one of the most important that I have made in this Chamber since I was first elected to the old Northern Ireland Parliament. It will be solemn, short, simple and straight.
Our Province is facing a most important crisis, and I pray God that it will make the right choice in this hour of crisis. There is never anything easy in decision-making, and today we stand in need of divine strength. May almighty God defend the right.
Before us is a plan that has two main pillars. One is power sharing, and the other is total recognition of, and support for, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Everyone in a position of political power must decide whether he or she will support both these principles. My party, and all the other main political parties, have stated likewise, but until now Sinn Féin has failed to do so. It has, rather, equivocated, hesitated and by various means obstructed progress and continues to blame my party for the delay. My party has been straightforward and faithful in its stand.
When Sinn Féin has fulfilled its obligations with regard to the police, the courts, the rule of law and other commitments, then — and only then — can progress be made. Delivery is in the hands of Sinn Féin: there can and will be no movement until it faces up to, and signs up to, its obligations. As I said in the House of Commons this week:
“I am a man of plain speech. People know that I try to keep my word as my bond. I am not interested in any word games tonight. I am interested in peace in the country that I love — peace for its families and its children. When I spoke at St. Andrews I said:
‘The DUP has been consistent in our demand that there must be delivery from the republican movement before devolution can be restored in Northern Ireland. The days of gunmen in government are over.’
I have no interest — neither in relation to my members nor in relation to the people I represent: the majority of the Unionist population in Northern Ireland — in deviating from the course of action that I have taken. I believe that my policy can and will lead to a better Northern Ireland, where peace and justice take the place of terror and strife, when true democracy reigns. For that to happen — for me as the leader of Unionism to enter a Government under the arrangements identified at St. Andrews — there must be full and unequivocal support for the rule of law, the Police Service,”
— that is, the PSNI —
“and the courts by all Members.”
On this matter, my party executive made the following resolution:
“The DUP in keeping with the outcome of its consultation process wants to build on the areas of progress made at St Andrews whilst recognising that other aspects of the proposals require further work. The Party will continue with the work in progress to ensure up front delivery by Government and republicans …
The DUP reiterates the need for the Government to deliver on the outstanding issues presented to it by the Party.
The DUP holds to its long standing position that there can only be an agreement involving Sinn Fein when there has been delivery by the republican movement, tested and proved over a credible period, in terms of support for the PSNI, the Courts and the rule of law, a complete end to paramilitary and criminal activity and the removal of terrorist structures ...
The Government stressed, before, during and after the St Andrews talks that the twin pillars for agreement are DUP support for power sharing and Sinn Fein support for policing. Clearly as Sinn Fein is not yet ready to take the decisive step forward on policing, the DUP is not required to commit to any aspect of power sharing in advance of such certainty.”
The circumstances have not been reached in which there can be a nomination or a designation this day. I have made clear my aim, hope and desire for the future. Throughout the DUP’s consultations, we stated that if and when commitments are delivered, the DUP would enter government. At that time, there will fall to me a judgement consistent with delivery on the ground, as a basis for moving forward. Here I stand.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Madam Speaker: I shall not take points of order at this time. I invite the nominating officer from the largest party of the second-largest designation to indicate his intention to honour his duty under the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 in relation to the nomination of a Deputy First Minister designate after the Assembly election, subject to the outcome of that election and other necessary conditions being satisfied. I call Mr Adams.
Mr Robert McCartney: Madam Speaker —
Madam Speaker: Order. Mr McCartney, I am standing. Please sit down.
Mr Robert McCartney: You must —
Madam Speaker: Please sit down. I will take no points of order until this process is completed.
Mr Nesbitt: May I ask a question?
Madam Speaker: I wish to proceed. I have already called Mr Adams, and he is waiting to speak.
Mr Adams: Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh. Tá áthas mór orm ár gcara Máirtín Mac Aonghusa a cheapadh do phost an LeasChéad-Aire.
I am very pleased, a Cheann Comhairle, to nominate my friend Martin McGuinness for the position of Deputy First Minister. I agree with Ian Paisley that today is an important day. This is the beginning of a Transitional Assembly and, by our presence today, all of us have agreed to that.
Of course, like Ian Paisley, I too believe that we face great challenges in the months ahead. However, I believe that all of the parties that are represented in this Chamber, and the two Governments, can overcome those challenges. We have a lot in common. We all want peace and justice for all of our families and all of our children. We are all here as equals, and we have a duty to govern for the sake of all of our people.
We also, despite protestations, share a common view that British direct rule is bad rule. Our people deserve better on social and economic matters such as health, education, poverty, water charges and rates. Those are the big issues for which people want their locally accountable politicians to take responsibility. We have the opportunity to bring back sensible, sensitive government, including the all-Ireland institutions.
The DUP says that it has difficulties in sharing power with republicans. Let me tell Members that very many nationalists and republicans are very concerned at the prospect of Sinn Féin sharing power with the DUP. However, that is also a challenge to which we must rise and face together. That is what leadership is about.
I am very conscious of the hurt felt by Protestant and unionist people. I am equally conscious of the hurt felt by nationalists and republicans, and by people caught in the middle of what we have all come through. No one has a monopoly on suffering. No one on any of these Benches can have any part in building a hierarchy of victims. Neither can anyone — especially those in this Chamber — absolve us from the responsibility to build a new and shared future for all of our people. We all must accept our share of responsibility for what has occurred.
As Irish republicans, in many ways, we look back to that great Irish Protestant leader and patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone, who sought the unity of Catholics, Protestants and dissenters. With goodwill, we can create a space in which all of the issues of difference — whether policing, power sharing, poverty, or any other matter — can be dealt with satisfactorily. Today is another day in the inch-by-inch process of putting the political institutions back in place.
I am very confident that Martin McGuinness will be a champion for equality, fairness and justice — [Laughter.] I believe that none of the difficult issues facing us is insurmountable, but it is crucial that everyone present understands that today is not a stand-alone event, and that progress is required in the short time ahead.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
Mr Nesbitt: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Mr Robert McCartney: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: I have made it clear to both gentlemen that I shall hear points of order after this process is complete. Moreover, Mr McCartney will have five minutes in which to speak. No points of order or points of information will be heard at the moment.
Mr Nesbitt: The process has been completed.
Madam Speaker: That may be your opinion; it is not mine. I will carry out fully the direction that was given by the Secretary of State this morning.
Mr Nesbitt: When may we make points of order?
Madam Speaker: I have already said that points of order may be heard after I consider that the process has been completed.
Mr Nesbitt: Therefore, you will allow points of order?
Madam Speaker: I have not, at any stage, said that I would not. I call for order so that we can complete this process.
Mr M McGuinness: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Tá áthas mór orm an post seo a ghlacadh.
I am pleased to accept the nomination and, if it is the will of the people and of Sinn Féin, I will represent the people as Deputy First Minister. I will carry out my responsibilities and duties conscientiously, and I will respect and promote the common good of all our people at all times.
Go raibh míle maith agat.
Madam Speaker: In accordance with the direction that I received this morning, it is duly noted that Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness have indicated, subject to the outcome of the election and other necessary conditions being satisfied —
Some Members: No!
Madam Speaker: Order. I remind Members that, as Speaker, I make the decisions as to our proceedings. Order, order.
I am following the direction given by the Secretary of State — [Laughter.] If Dr Paisley wishes to query that, we can discuss it later.
As I said, it is duly noted that Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness have indicated, subject to the outcome of the election and other necessary conditions being satisfied, their intention to be nominated as First Minister designate and Deputy First Minister designate, after the Assembly elections.
We shall now move to statements from the leaders of the other political parties.
Sir Reg Empey: Madam Speaker —
Mr Ervine: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Mr McCartney: She is not going to take any points of order.
Mr Ervine: Well —
Madam Speaker: Mr Ervine, I cannot treat you any differently to other Members. I decide when and whether to hear points of order.
Mr Ervine: We have moved to another item on the Order Paper.
Madam Speaker: I am on my feet. Sit down, Mr Ervine.
Mr Ervine: We have moved to another item on the Order Paper. Surely, it is —
Madam Speaker: Order. I have called Sir Reg Empey.
Sir Reg Empey: Madam Speaker, this Assembly and this process is nothing if not consistent in its inconsistency.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Sir Reg Empey: The question on everyone’s lips is whether Dr Paisley has made a nomination — [Laughter.] If sufficient bottle does not exist for Members to own up to whether they have nominated, that is a matter for the people to judge — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. I remind Members that, distasteful as it is, the issue of what today’s speeches contained is a matter for the Secretary of State, not the Speaker. [Interruption.]
Order. I apologise, Sir Reg, for the interruption to your speech.
Sir Reg Empey: Madam Speaker, it is not unusual for my speeches to be interrupted, so I shall manage. At the meeting of the Business Committee this morning, I asked my party’s representatives to ensure that, at the earliest possible opportunity, this Assembly has the chance to fully debate, openly and in front of the public, the operation that we have witnessed. Clarification is required as to whether we have witnessed a marriage or an engagement today, because it is not entirely clear which it is.
However, the one thing that is clear is the trajectory of where we are going, which is towards power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin. That is absolutely clear. The precise details and nuances remain to be determined. The Secretary of State has moved from rock-solid determinations to fixed dates, to lines in the sand, to vapours in the wind, and we do not know what he intends to do. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Sir Reg Empey: The protests today are more an expression of embarrassment than anything else, because people have been telling us for years about the things that they would not do, the things that they would never do, and that only over their dead bodies would various things happen. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. Please let the Member speak.
Sir Reg Empey: Inexorably, there is a process taking place, and everyone knows that.
On a more serious note, I believe that the hunger in the country is to make progress. We must have the power to deal with education, water rates and such matters. We must also remember that we have sat here for four years, unable to discharge our duties, because the matter that brought about the collapse of the last Executive — namely the spy scandal — was an example of the fact that the republican movement had not committed itself to totally and exclusively peaceful means.
In the interim period — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Sir Reg Empey: In the interim period, a series of decisions has been imposed upon us by the Secretary of State. Some of those have been the natural outflow of developments; others have been a deliberate attempt to force people into certain political positions.
At the earliest possible moment, we must clarify what the precise time line will be. We also need clarity on the meaning of today’s developments. The sound system does not seem to be working in this part of the Chamber, and it was not possible to hear the early part of Dr Paisley’s address. However, if the early part was as interesting as the latter part, I have little doubt that we will look forward with great anticipation to reading the record.
As we contemplate the current situation, the one thing that stands out most strongly is the waste —
Madam Speaker: Your time is up, Sir Reg.
Sir Reg Empey: I shall have another opportunity to speak, Madam Speaker.
Mr Durkan: There is as much hollow farce as historic significance in what we have witnessed this morning.
Several Members: Hear, hear.
Mr Durkan: Parties were set a simple test for today, and the manner in which these proceedings are being conducted means that we are failing that test. Under the Secretary of State’s remote direction, language and logic are being turned inside out and on to their head. However, that is not the fault of just the Secretary of State. We need to recognise that the slippage, for which we all criticised the Government for allowing, stems from the slippiness of the two political parties that claim to lead this process but that are deadlocking it yet again. The public are getting fed up with this tired and boring soap opera in which we teeter on the brink and repeatedly go through the same plot lines. In that soap opera, people find ways in which to give each other excuses and vetoes so that they can then get away with blaming each other for failure.
The SDLP endorsed the St Andrews deal not as the best or most perfect way forward but as a path that could get us back into the institutions for which the people, North and South, voted when they endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. However, despite all the declarations and affirmations that the Government made at the time, slippage has occurred since the meetings at St Andrews. The Programme for Government Committee was meant to meet on 17 October, but it did not meet until 20 November. In the week of 10 November, Sinn Féin’s ardchomhairle was to meet to make a clear statement on a path that would take us forward on policing — that never happened. On 10 November, the St Andrews deal was to be endorsed and parties were to commit definitively to power sharing before legislation was passed this week — no such commitment was made. Instead, we had the Vicky Pollard-type excuses of “Yes but, no but, not our fault, see — blame them.”
The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 was passed this week, and that legislation saw more vetoes being piled into the DUP shopping trolley. Sinn Féin was happy for that to happen, because it negotiates only for itself and its own in those situations. It does not negotiate for the wider public, for the wider national interest or even for the wider nationalist interest. Therefore difficulties remain.
Nominations were meant to have been made today. The St Andrews deal was clear that nominations should be made on 24 November, and it was clear about what would happen if nominations were not made on that day. Of course, those nominations have not been made.
Several Members: Hear, hear.
Mr Durkan: We were told that the legislation would give the DUP what it wanted only if nominations were made, but that has not happened. That situation is wrong. It is not just bad governance and bad management on the part of two Governments, it is bad negotiating on the part of Sinn Féin. Therefore Sinn Féin has helped to set up this position for the DUP.
As the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill was passing through Westminster this week, we heard from the DUP that there would be no devolution of justice and policing in our various lifetimes. I thought that many DUP members were Free Presbyterians; however, it seems that many of them are Buddhists who will be reincarnated many times in order for them to say no to the devolution of justice and policing many times. [Laughter.] Who put the DUP into that position? Sinn Féin, the party that gave the DUP the triple-lock veto over the devolution of justice and policing, put the DUP into that position. Sinn Féin gave the DUP that veto in the comprehensive agreement, and Sinn Féin was happy for that veto to be gilt-edged for the DUP when the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 was passed in the spring. Sinn Féin welcomed that legislation as sealing the devolution of justice and policing, and Sinn Féin pretended to the nationalist community that it was sealing the devolution of justice and policing. However, it merely sealed a veto for the DUP.
Of course, the DUP has given Sinn Féin a veto. The DUP says that until Sinn Féin moves on policing, the rest of us will not get back to democracy, we will not get the institutions for which we voted, and people will not see politicians doing the job for which they were mandated. The DUP is happy to give Sinn Féin that veto — those parties rely on each other. That in turn proves that none of us can rely on them.
When it comes to voting next March — if we get that far — people will need to know that they have a choice. That choice is between a mandate for stability and a mandate for stalemate. The two parties that between them have given us the worst of our past will not give us the best of our future.
Madam Speaker: I call Mr Ford. Order.
Mr Ford: We started off this morning with what sounded like the longest “maybe” in history — the great pretenders are continuing the great pretence. Yet another line in the sand drawn by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister has been washed away by a tide of mistrust and bitterness. There is no way in which any rational person could interpret the statement that the leader of the DUP made as being an intention to nominate. [Interruption.]
Those on the one side of the Chamber who are catcalling should look outside it and see what the people of Northern Ireland think about what is going on inside it. The people of Northern Ireland are fed up with the delays, the nonsense, and the complete inability of those who were given responsibility in the last election to take that responsibility and live up to it. The Alliance Party is utterly fed up with those parties’ inabilities — despite the leadership that they claim and despite the roles that they have been given — to do what they have been instructed to do and live up even to the promises that they made in the comprehensive agreement and in the St Andrews Agreement.
It is clear that Sinn Féin has done nothing that could be interpreted constructively as moving towards accepting the rule of law. It has failed to do what it should have done, and all the pious noises that it makes in blaming the DUP do not outweigh that fact. Similarly, the DUP has done nothing to demonstrate a willingness to share power genuinely, engage with other parties, and accept its responsibilities.
If the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State had any integrity, they would close this place down — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr Ford: It is time that we stopped the pretence of what is going on. When the St — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. We will know whether we have to evacuate. Please continue, Mr Ford.
Mr Ford: When the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill was going through Westminster in an unseemly and almost unconstitutional rush this week, Lord Smith, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster, described it in the House of Lords as “a fig leaf”. He added:
“Whether it will provide a foundation for an operating, representative and democratic system of devolved government…is extremely doubtful.”
Having now seen the utter farce that has taken place in the Chamber this morning, anybody who had doubts will know exactly what is happening and how little opportunity there is for anything.
The significant differences between the DUP and Sinn Féin have not been addressed, despite all the rhetoric of the past year and a half and despite their fingerprints being all over the St Andrews Agreement. They have merely pushed the blockage further down the pipe. They have done nothing to engage, and they have left the people of Northern Ireland in the limbo of not knowing what is happening and of watching the farce this morning compound that which the Government has created in recent months.
The Alliance Party did not support the St Andrews Agreement, and we have no responsibility for it. What we have seen today is a weakening of even the limited amount of genuine power sharing that was left within that agreement. It was an opportunity to divide power further, and it had nothing to do with power sharing. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better than that, and they will have to see something better than that. The people are not being conned by what is going on, and it is time that those in the Chamber and in the Government stop deceiving people.
Today was supposed to be the simple part of the process. All that was required was the nomination of a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister, and we could not even get that simple procedure right. If we cannot manage a simple nomination process, what chance do we have of dealing with the difficult issues that confront this Assembly? Those difficult issues — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: I have received instructions that we will have to evacuate using the exit that is behind the Speaker’s Chair. [Interruption.] Order. That is, unless you want to sit here and be bombed or something. Thank you for your co-operation. I remind Members that the sitting is only suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 11.09 am.
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