A quick question..

What exactly will the parties be endorsing? That is.. what is the St Andrews Agreement[pdf file] that both governments expect all parties to endorse by 10th November? That’s not a trick question, btw. It ties in with the current disagreement about vows, the sudden meeting after the meeting, and it ties in with what the BBC’s Mark Devenport describes as a row “not about principle but more about timing”. The answer, it would appear, is the document in its entirety.. and, given that the parties must endorse the St Andrews Agreement by the 10th November, that raises some interesting points.The Secretary of State for Wales etc, Peter Hain, twice in as many days, has referred to “paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement”..

There were two main issues to be resolved at St Andrews if we were to achieve restoration of the power-sharing Executive: the need for support for policing and the rule of law across the whole community which would enable, in due course, the safe devolution of policing and justice to the Assembly, and changes to the operation of the Good Friday Agreement’s institutions.

On support for policing I want to spell out to the House what that means, by quoting from paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement.

It means fully endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

It means actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas.

It means playing a full and active role in all the policing and justice institutions, including the Policing Board.[added emphasis]

and he had this to say in his statement to the House of Commons

We have asked the parties to consult on the St Andrews Agreement and to respond by 10 November, to allow time for final drafting of the Bill to take through the House.

Once this happens, and on the basis that the St Andrews Agreement is endorsed, the Assembly will meet to nominate the First and Deputy First Minister on November 24, the deadline for a deal.[added emphasis]

Annex D of the St Andrews Agreement[pdf file], the Timetable for Implementation of the St Andrews Agreement states

13 October: Governments publish St Andrews agreement. Parties consult, including through the DUP Assembly group, the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle and other appropriate party bodies, on the St Andrews agreement, and respond by 10 November.[added emphasis]

And it specifies that

Failure to agree to establish the Executive will lead to immediate dissolution of the Assembly, as will failure to agree at any stage, and the Governments will take forward new partnership arrangements on the basis previously announced.[added emphasis]

Paragraph 6, btw, is in the section dealing with Policing and the rule of law.. and I looked at it more closely in a previous post

But here it is again..

6. We believe that the essential elements of support for law and order include endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.[emphasis added]

So when Mark Devenport states that

Like so many others before, the row is not about principle but more about timing.

If it endorses the St Andrews Agreement the Sinn Fein ard comhairle, or party executive, will effectively have bought into policing by 10 November.[added emphasis]

Any new pledge of office will be put into law before 24 November. But Sinn Fein could do without Martin McGuinness taking the pledge before their conference debates the issue.

..as when, earlier in the same article he points out..

However, this would be before the Sinn Fein ard fheis convenes to decide the party policy on policing, so could cause Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator some embarrassment.

..he’s not wrong.. because endorsing the St Andrews Agreement, which is expected to be done by all parties by the 10th November – if the 24th November deadline is to be met – includes endorsing paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement, whether Martin McGuinness swears an oath on the 24th November or not.

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