When the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, announced his new [and improved? – Ed] Restoration Committee, officialy titled, it would appear, the Preparation for Government Committee he laid down a deadline for a response from the parties – Tuesday. And Sinn Féin have taken him at his word, scheduling a meeting for their MLAs to decide on a response – on Tuesday [that’s what happens when you set a deadline here – Ed]. I expect the other parties will do likewise.
But there are some details worth emphasising on this new Committee.
Firstly, as Dan Keenan notes in the Irish Times[subs req] –
Mr Hain made it clear yesterday the new 14-member committee would merely identify issues, not permit negotiations around them. However, he warned that the public would draw its own conclusions about the prospects of progress if any of the parties refused to take up the invitation.
..and then there’s the semi-conscious assembly which, it’s worth pointing out, certain parties are already refusing to attend –
Fresh doubt about the continuance of the restored Assembly emerged last night. It will not sit next Monday because of the UK bank holiday and the Westminster recess. The business committee of members is to meet next Tuesday but there will be no plenary session. Business for the following week, if any, has yet to be outlined by Mr Hain.
While according to the Note to Editors in the NIO statement –
The initial task of the committee will be “to scope the work which, in the view of the parties, needs to be done in preparation for Government. The committee may choose to develop this remit by consensus over time or to establish sub-groups to address particular issues.
It would be beneficial for appropriate issues, as they are identified, to be referred by this committee to the Business Committee for debate in the Assembly.
But no negotiating.. that’s what the governments are there for.
Remind me what the point of restoring this version of the assembly was again.. the Secretary of State’s statement in the Commons
Our hope and intention is that the Assembly will elect an Executive within six weeks, as envisaged by Paragraph 35 of Strand One of the Good Friday Agreement. However, if this timeframe proves too short, the Assembly will have a further 12 week period after the summer in which to complete the task.
During this period, it will be open to the parties to engage in further discussion, both amongst themselves and with the Government, on improving the running of the institutions.
The Assembly will also have opportunities to prepare for Government by considering issues crucial to the future of Northern Ireland, such as the economy, and reforms to education, water charges and public administration.
That will be why there’s no business scheduled for next week.. and possibly none scheduled again for some time to come –
A Stormont source said: “There is some nervousness right now about the future of this Assembly.
“The Government would obviously not be keen to have the SDLP join Sinn Fein in boycotting Assembly debates.
“People would not want to see empty nationalist benches because that would send out worrying signals.”
Time for another committee I’d say..