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October 12, 2006

Devolution Talks Enter Final Day

News About Ireland & The Irish

BB 10/12/06 Devolution Talks Enter Final Day
IT 10/13/06 Ahern And Blair May Propose Their Own Settlement
SM 10/12/06 'Plan B' Threat To Force Ulster Deal
BB 10/12/06 No Guts, No Government?
HC 10/12/06 Britain, Ireland To Push Compromise Plan
BB 10/12/06 'Masonic Bias' In Police Job Move
IT 10/13/06 Fianna Fáil Soars In Poll As Opposition Suffers Decline


Devolution Talks Enter Final Day

The third day of talks aimed at restoring devolution in
Northern Ireland is set to get under way at St Andrews in

The negotiations are scheduled to end at midday.

On Thursday, a Downing Street spokesman said the two
governments were prepared to publish their own proposals to
break the deadlock.

The spokesman said the governments would do so if the
parties failed to reach an agreement.

There were also indications on Thursday that the
governments are softening on the 24 November deadline for
restoring devolution.

The governments shouldn't act in a way that creates a
sense of failure

SDLP leader Mark Durkan

The British government spokesman said that if necessary "we
will put forward our best guess as to what a way forward is
- the parties then would have to decide their responses to

He also indicated that the 24 November deadline related to
an agreement to restore devolution, rather than having the
actual institutions up and running.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan warned the governments against
publishing their own proposals.

"The governments shouldn't act in a way that creates a
sense of failure," he said.

"We think what they need to do is to continue in pursuit of
all the issues."

In the talks, the DUP and Sinn Fein seemed to be involved
in a standoff over the issue of policing and power-sharing.

The DUP wants Sinn Fein to sign up to policing before it
agrees to share power with them, while Sinn Fein wants the
DUP to move first.

DUP leader Ian Paisley said Sinn Fein should not be allowed
to use policing as a bargaining chip, but should accept the
rule of law like every other party.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said he believed agreement
could be reached in the talks, adding that Mr Paisley "has
to decide if this is the time to do a deal".

The UK and Irish governments have given the parties until
24 November to reach a deal on power-sharing, otherwise the
assembly may be put into cold storage.

The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended on 14 October
2002 amid allegations of a republican spy ring at Stormont.

The court case that followed collapsed and one of those
charged, Denis Donaldson, later admitted working as a
British agent.

Direct rule from London was restored in October 2002 and
has been in place since.

Published: 2006/10/13 01:20:47 GMT


Ahern And Blair May Propose Their Own Settlement

Frank Millar and Gerry Moriarty in St Andrews, Scotland

Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party,
speaks to the media in St Andrews, Scotland, yesterday. DUP
sources maintained that an "upfront" commitment to support
the PSNI remained a requirement for any party entering an

Failure by the DUP and Sinn Féin to reach agreement will
force the British and Irish governments to produce their
own terms for a final devolution settlement in Northern
Ireland later today.

That was made clear yesterday as the so-called "hothouse"
talks here yielded what Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg
Empey described as "a Mexican stand-off" between the DUP
and Sinn Féin over which side should move first to break
the continuing impasse over power-sharing and policing.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony
Blair, with senior British and Irish officials, were last
night busily drafting their "best guess" of a sequenced
deal which would resolve the stand-off issues of policing
and power-sharing.

Mr Blair's official spokesman maintained confidence that
both parties were willing "to move forward on the
principles of power-sharing and support for the rule of

However, the spokesman said the talks had also confirmed
that there was "caution" on each side that the other did
not intend to "deliver". And he confirmed that if that
caution held and prevented agreement, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern
were prepared to "call it" later today and put forward
their own "best guess as to the best way forward" in time
to complete an agreement by the November 24th deadline.

Amid continuing media speculation about suspected British
"flexibility" over the deadline, Mr Blair's spokesman
insisted that St Andrews was "not a staging post", that
"there will not be another round of talks" and that
"November 24th remains the deadline".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said he believed
that - despite seemingly diametrically opposed positions on
key issues - the parties were "moving slowly, inexorably .
. . toward an agreement", while conceding that the two
governments would "make a judgment" after further talks
going on "late night and into the morning".

However, Mr Ahern stressed the Government's absolute
commitment to the November deadline, insisting that if it
was missed, London and Dublin would "proceed with Plan B


'Plan B' Threat To Force Ulster Deal

Peter MacMahon

THE British and Irish governments will today publish their
own timetable for the restoration of devolution in Northern
Ireland if the province's political parties cannot strike a
deal at the St Andrews peace talks.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister and Bertie Ahern, the
Taoiseach, made it clear that if republicans and unionists
failed to agree a plan to restore the Stormont assembly,
the governments would take control of the process.

The Irish government further turned the screw by revealing
that there was also a "Plan B", which would see the two
governments bypassing Northern Ireland's politicians and
increasing north-south co-operation.

The threat to publish their own plan and the prospect of
the UK and Ireland working more closely together without
local politicians was intended to push the two sides to
strike an agreement as the talks entered their final stages
last night.

After Mr Blair and Mr Ahern met each of the political
parties at the talks, the Prime Minister's spokesman said
they still hoped that Northern Ireland's politicians could
agree among themselves.

However, he added that if there was no agreement by
lunchtime today, the two governments would "put forward our
best guess on what the way forward is".

The spokesman said that the document would be published to
allow the Northern Ireland public to see that there was the
possibility of restoring Stormont before the deadline of 24

It would then be up to the political parties to react to
the plan and state whether they could meet the timetable
the governments set out.

By publishing their own plan, the governments hope to
increase pressure on the Democratic Unionists to promise to
join in government with Sinn Fein, and force the
Nationalists to accept fully the role of the Police Service
of Northern Ireland in the province.

Although Mr Ahern would not go into detail, it is
understood that if Stormont was shut down then the two
governments would beef up cross-border co-operation on
areas such as health, education, tourism and the economy -
a move which would anger both Nationalists and Unionist

As the talks went on, the political brinkmanship continued,
with both the DUP and Sinn Fein seeking to blame the other
for the apparent impasse.

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, repeated
his party's claim that the outstanding issues could be
resolved by the time the talks at the Fairmont Hotel in St
Andrews ended later today.

He said he would "go into government tomorrow" with Ian
Paisley, the leader of the DUP.

"Ian Paisley has to decide whether it's the time for him to
do the deal. We need his help. He needs our help and we're
willing to help him," said Mr McGuinness.

But Mr Paisley, the leader of the largest Unionist party in
Northern Ireland, was more pessimistic, stating that there
could be no "anti-police" members of a devolved government.


No Guts, No Government?

By Martina Purdy
Political correspondent, BBC Northern Ireland

The Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey characterised the
row over policing between Sinn Fein and the DUP as a
"Mexican standoff".

When a government official heard this, he was alarmed:
"That involves two Mexicans with guns. The guns have been

Perhaps so, but the old patterns of negotiations have not
been decommissioned as the ghost of talks past continues to
haunt St Andrews.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has told reporters he needs
Ian Paisley to help him deliver policing.

It used to be David Trimble who had to help republicans,
only the issue was guns.

And it used to be that republicans had to jump first on IRA
decommissioning before there could be powersharing. Now
Sinn Fein has to jump first on policing.

The signs of failure at St Andrews have come early. The
prime minister's official spokesman has already planned for
deadlock by telling the media that the governments will
draw up proposals if there is no agreement between the
parties. Here in St Andrews Bay the tide is turning over
the deadline too.

It's long been speculated that it is the taoiseach who is
more enthusiastic about the 24 November deadline than Mr

One talks delegate said that in his party's meeting the
taoiseach was talking tough on the deadline, while the
prime minister sat grinning.

Perhaps too much is being read into body language, but Mr
Blair's official spokesman certainly cleared up the
Alliance leader's confusion on whether the deadline was for
devolution or just an agreement on devolution (David Ford
wasn't the only one confused).

Downing Street said it related to an agreement while the
Irish foreign minister, no doubt not wanting to contradict
London, said the deadline meant: "The immediate kicking in
of the ISSUE of devolution."

Dermot Ahern also talked about the operation of the bones
of a deal, but did make clear he wasn't prepared to wait
months for implementation.

Nonetheless, this is not exactly what Tony Blair and Bertie
Ahern said when they imposed their 24 November deadline.

Back in June there was a very specific timetable for

Has the DUP's success in melting the government's resolve
on the deadline encouraged it in its demands?

One delegate claimed that the DUP wants all ministers to
sign up to a pledge of office that not only includes
support for law and order but also respect for Northern
Ireland's constitutional position and agree to put Northern
Ireland first.

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, is
unlikely to agree to that, but he claimed a deal could be
done in the morning and his party is ready to do it.

He claimed the only question is whether the DUP leader is
up for a deal. Ian Paisley hasn't said no. But he hasn't
said yes.

The prime minister's official spokesman has been saying
with some sympathy and understanding that Sinn Fein doesn't
trust the DUP and the DUP doesn't trust Sinn Fein.

But if both parties really do want power at Stormont they
will have to take a risk somewhere along the line.

It used to be a case of "no guns no government" but as one
cynical hack put it, it's now "no guts, no government."

Published: 2006/10/12 20:16:37 GMT


Britain, Ireland To Push Compromise Plan

By Shawn Pogatchnik Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Britain and Ireland announced
Thursday they would present a plan to Northern Ireland's
rival leaders spelling out how to resurrect a Catholic-
Protestant administration as the province's peace deal

The two governments said, barring a breakthrough, they
would publish their blueprint for compromise Friday at the
end of three days of multi-party negotiations at a luxury
hotel outside this seaside university town.

The British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and
Bertie Ahern, invited delegations from seven Northern
Ireland parties _ most crucially Ian Paisley's Democratic
Unionists and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein _ to Scotland in hopes
of forging an agreement to revive power-sharing, the
central aim of the Good Friday peace pact of 1998.

But after two days of closed meetings, Paisley emphasized
Thursday that his British Protestant party would not agree
unless Sinn Fein first accepted Northern Ireland's police
force. Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party
that represents Northern Ireland's Catholic minority,
insisted it would not change its anti-police policy until
after power-sharing resumed _ and this time with Sinn Fein
potentially overseeing the police force.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said the two
governments planned to publish proposals that represent
"our best estimate" of the grounds for compromise. But he
said the governments stood by their ultimatum to abolish
the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has the power to elect
an administration, if the rival parties fail to strike a
power-sharing deal by Nov. 24.

Paisley, an 80-year-old evangelist whose hard-line party
triumphed in the 2003 Assembly elections, said he was not
willing to negotiate with Sinn Fein on its terms for
accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The traditionally Protestant-dominated force has already
boosted its Catholic officers from 8 percent to 20 percent,
but police still face great difficulties operating in Sinn
Fein power bases.

"If you want to serve in the government of a democracy, you
must totally and absolutely support the police at every
level and must be seen to be supporting the police,"
Paisley said.

Sinn Fein's lead negotiator, former IRA commander Martin
McGuinness, said his party would not support the police
until after a Catholic-Protestant administration was
restored _ and Britain transferred new powers to the
coalition to oversee the police and the rest of Northern
Ireland's justice system.

Britain has tabled legislation that would do this. But
McGuinness said Sinn Fein needed more details up front, and
promises from Paisley to stick by the deal.

"We need to agree, for example, the shape of the department
which will deal with justice and policing, and we need a
time frame for the transfer of powers," McGuinness said.

The IRA killed 1,775 people _ including nearly 300 police
officers _ from 1970 to a 1997 cease-fire. The outlawed
group last year formally abandoned its campaign to
overthrow Northern Ireland by force and handed its weapons
stockpiles to disarmament officials.

Those IRA peace moves, the most dramatic products of a 13-
year-old peace process, had greatly boosted hopes of
forging a coalition led by the Democratic Unionists and
Sinn Fein, the polar opposites of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's previous coalition _ which collapsed in
2002 over an IRA spying scandal inside government circles _
was led by Protestant and Catholic moderates but included
the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein. The four-party
coalition ran a dozen British government departments, but
Britain's Northern Ireland Office retained control over
justice and policing.

The moderates, who were trounced in the 2003 election and
would have only a minority role in a revived coalition,
criticized Paisley for demanding too much. They also said
Sinn Fein must dump its ambiguous stance on policing.

Mark Durkan, whose Social Democratic and Labour Party
represents moderate Catholics, said Sinn Fein leaders must
make it "very clear what they are committed to doing _ in
one clear jump."


'Masonic Bias' In Police Job Move

A police officer was discriminated against because he was
not a Mason, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve Constable Joseph Gibson
was moved from the motor transport depot in 1999 during
staff cutbacks.

Another reservist who was retained was not as well trained
as Mr Gibson but was a member of the Masonic Order.

The Fair Employment Tribunal held Mr Gibson was unlawfully
discriminated against on grounds of religious belief.

It also held that the constable retained was a member of
the Masonic Order, as was at least one other person
involved in the selection process.

In a ruling the tribunal declared: "The respondents did not
provide a neutral working environment.

"As a result, those officers who did not belong to the
Masonic Order felt uncomfortable and excluded because of
the actions of those who did."

The tribunal will reconvene to decide upon the appropriate

The tribunal said membership of the Masonic Order is a
religious belief for the purposes of the Fair Employment
and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.

The tribunal concluded "the decision to transfer the
claimant from the RUC Motor Transport Depot was unlawful
discrimination on grounds of religious belief".

Mr Gibson brought the case before the tribunal, with the
assistance of the Equality Commission.

Judgement studied

Eileen Lavery, head of legal services in the Equality
Commission, said people could not be discriminated against
because they were not Masons.

"The ruling of the tribunal is clear - that in the
workplace it is unlawful to discriminate against someone
because they are not a Mason," she said.

"It does not say that membership of the Masonic Order is
incompatible with any particular employment, but rather
that taking decisions in the workplace which favour one
person to the detriment of another, based on Masonic
membership, is unlawful."

Mr Gibson, now 67, originally from Belfast, took the case
against the RUC - which has since become the Police Service
of Northern Ireland - and the now defunct NI Police
Authority after being among the officers selected for

The staff reduction followed a decision to switch prisoner
escort duties to the Prison Service.

A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland
said the force was studying the judgement closely.

Published: 2006/10/12 16:47:55 GMT


Fianna Fáil Soars In Poll As Opposition Suffers Decline


There has been a dramatic increase of 8 percentage points
in support for Fianna Fáil, with the party recording its
highest level of support since the last election at 39 per
cent, according to the latest Irish Times/ TNS mrbi opinion
poll published today. Stephen Collins, Political
Correspondent, reports

Despite all the controversies of recent weeks, the
Taoiseach's satisfaction rating has improved marginally,
while support for the PDs is also up.

The increase in support for Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach
has come about despite the fact that two-thirds of voters
believe that Mr Ahern was wrong to take money for personal
use while he was minister for finance.

A clear majority of Fianna Fáil supporters said he was
wrong to take the money in Dublin and Manchester.

The adjusted figures for party support are: Fianna Fáil, 39
per cent (up 8 points); Fine Gael, 26 per cent (down 2
points); Labour, 11 per cent (down 4 points); Sinn Féin, 8
per cent (down 1 point); PDs, 4 per cent (up 1 point);
Greens, 6 per cent (up 1 point); and Independents/others, 6
per cent (down 3 points).

The poll was conducted last Monday and Tuesday among a
representative sample of 1,000 voters at 100 sampling
points in all the constituencies in the State.

It took place at the time the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were
negotiating to repair the damage to the coalition. The
formal announcement that the breach had been repaired took
place during the second day of polling.

The core vote for the parties is Fianna Fáil, 36 per cent
(up 6 points); Fine Gael, 19 per cent (down two points);
Labour, 8 per cent (down 3 points); Sinn Féin, 6 per cent
(down one point); PDs, 3 per cent (up 1 point); Green
Party, 4 per cent (no change); Independents/others, 5 per
cent (down three points); and undecided voters, 19 per cent
(up two points).

The surge in Fianna Fáil support has come in spite of the
fact that 64 per cent believe Mr Ahern was wrong to take
money from friends, while just 24 per cent said it was
alright for him to take it.

Even among Fianna Fáil voters 47 per cent said he was wrong
and 39 per cent believed he was right.

There was an almost identical response to a question about
the Manchester payment.

The Taoiseach's satisfaction rating is up by one point to
53 per cent. The Government's satisfaction rating is up six
points to 46 per cent, while dissatisfaction with the
Government is at 47 per cent.

While the main Opposition parties are down, the
satisfaction rating of their leaders is up. Enda Kenny's
rating has risen by two points to 42 per cent; Pat Rabbitte
is up by seven percentage points to 48 per cent; Trevor
Sargent is up eight to 43 per cent; and Gerry Adams is up
four to 43 per cent.

The new PD leader, Michael McDowell, is on 32 per cent
compared with the 34 per cent rating for his predecessor,
Mary Harney, in the last poll in May.

Mr McDowell will take comfort from the poll. Despite
sustained media criticism of his performance, a majority of
people believe he was right to decide that Mr Ahern was fit
to remain as Taoiseach and to continue in office with him.
Mr McDowell has the lowest satisfaction rating of any party
leader, but he is close to the rating achieved by Mary
Harney in the last poll.

Among PD voters, 55 per cent are satisfied with Mr
McDowell, and 27 per cent dissatisfied.

A significant feature of the poll was the drop in support
for the main Opposition parties. However, the modest rise
in the satisfaction rating for Enda Kenny and the
significant increase in Pat Rabbitte's rating is some
consolation for them.

Sinn Féin has also seen a further erosion of support, with
the party dropping one per cent. It is now significantly
lower than the 12 per cent high it achieved twice during

The Green Party has increased its support to 6 per cent,
while party leader Trevor Sargent is up eight points to 45
per cent.

The two Government parties combined now have a lead of 6
per cent over the alternative coalition of Fine Gael and
Labour. Last May the alternative coalition was 7 per cent
ahead. If the Greens are included in the Opposition the two
sides are level on 43 per cent each.

© The Irish Times

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