Do what you were elected to do – that was the unequivocal message from the British and Irish Prime Ministers to Northern Ireland’s political parties.
In the latest bid to restart the province’s peace process, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have set a deadline of November 24 for parties to overcome differences and return to a power-sharing devolved government. “We have today set up the framework beginning with the recall of assembly on 15th May and running up to November of this year for the ultimate decision to be made,” said Blair. Failure would mean deferral of the assembly, continued direct rule from London and the suspension of the local politicians’ salaries. Ahern said: “Our joint strategy represents the best opportunity to pave the way for the restoration of devolved government this year. And no reasonable person could see it as anything other than an honourable and fair attempt to enable the parties to do the work they were elected to do.” Breaking the political stalemate before the end of this year is crucial for both governments as Ahern is facing an election in the first half of 2007 and Blair may stand down in the same period. The talks have been overshadowed by the recent murder of an ex-British spy and former politician from Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political ally. If the militants are judged to have been involved in the killing of Denis Donaldson it may severely hamper negotiations. Sinn Fein says it is taking stock before making a response to today’s initiative. But the main pro-British DUP party has said it is not happy with the proposal and it will not be dictated to by Dublin.