Category: Archive

Down to business

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Dec. 13 has been set as the date for the first meeting, in Armagh, of the All-Ireland Ministerial Conference, where ministers from both sides of the border will debate matters of common concern.

Sinn Féin sees the conference as the engine toward a united Ireland, while the unionists insist its agenda will be subject to the Assembly at Stormont.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, the IRA confirmed that its representative on disarming has met the chairman of the International Body on Decommissioning. In a statement, the IRA did not name its go-between or say where or when the talks took place. It did say, however, that there would be further discussions with the decommissioning body.

Although a British newspaper reported the IRA’s interlocutor is republican prisoner Pádraig Wilson, an official prisons source said Wilson was still in jail and had not been out since last Thursday, when the IRA was obliged to appoint its representative.

Trimble said that the IRA move marked the beginning of a process, which, he hoped, would end in decommissioning. Trimble said that he hoped the loyalist paramilitaries in the UDA-UFF would follow suit and appoint an interlocutor to the decommissioning body.

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The move follows reports that the British government is planning to downgrade its military installations in the North dramatically, although no official announcement has been made.

Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson has invited public submissions on the scale-down of Britain’s military presence, but stressed "any change will, of course, depend on genuine cessations of violence and continued progress in the political process."

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Independent International Commission on Disarmament, Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, has dismissed reports that weapons could be sealed in bunkers and left to rust. "Our mandate calls for us to destroy the arms that we receive, or that the arms be destroyed by the paramilitaries themselves, with verification provided by us," he said.

"For us to be able to verify that something has been destroyed, we have to know what it was before and how much it was. We would want to know that what we are destroying is a working arm, so that we can accurately account for what it is."

Business of governing

Sinn Féin’s new ministers, Bairbre de Brun and Martin McGuinness, are set to meet their counterparts in Dublin, education minister Micheal Martin and health minister Brian Cowen.

McGuinness, now Northern Ireland’s minister for education, has pledged to treat all children, unionist or nationalist, equally. "When I look at children, I don’t look for a unionist child, a loyalist child, a republican child, or a nationalist child," he said, "I see our children. We have a responsibility to them."

At midnight last Wednesday, British ministers ceased to have control over large swathes of governmental policy, excepting security, the courts, policing and defense.

Two ministers who had been administering power in Belfast on behalf of the British parliament, Lord Alfred Dubbs and John McFall, resigned almost immediately as their jobs became non-existent.

The devolution process ended in a vote in the House of Commons late on Tuesday night. Mandelson, said that the North stood on the threshold of a "new stability, new prosperity and new hope."

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 was overwhelmingly approved by 318 votes to 10 in the House of Commons. The House of Lords approved the order enabling the transfer of powers without a vote.

First Minister and Ulster Unionist Party Leader David Trimble welcomed the ending of direct rule. "We should never have had the debasement of democracy that direct rule was, we are ending that tonight," he said.

On Thursday, the 10 new Northern ministers sat around a table at Stormont to begin hammering out a program for government. The two missing were Democrat Unionist Party men Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds.

They held a press conference at Stormont instead, accusing fellow unionists in the UUP of betraying their election promises by going into government with the "unrepentant terrorists" of Sinn Féin without prior IRA decommissioning.

On the same day, Thursday, at a ceremony in Dublin, the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 was superseded by a new British-Irish Treaty, rooted in the terms of the Good Friday agreement, setting up an Intergovernmental Conference.

As soon as that was signed, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, sitting in a Cabinet meeting in Dublin, signed the document replacing Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution of 1937 with aspirational commitment to uniting all the people of Ireland by consent.

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