Political cryonics anyone?

As the BBC have reported, the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, has made his “the future of Northern Ireland” statement to the House of Commons. Announcing his intention to bring forward an emergency Bill on 20 April, with only a half a dozen clauses, to recall the Assembly on 15 May, as previously announced. He repeatedly references devolution in Scotland and Wales as role-models, but there’s not a great deal of detail so far except that the recall has “the express purpose that it sets about electing a First and Deputy First Minister on a cross-community basis and then forms an Executive, under the d’Hondt formula”.. and if that fails.. on 24 November it’s “political cryonics“.

UpdatedA short extract from the statement which focuses on the recalled Assembly, and what it may be able to do.. or not –

The bill arranges for the Assembly to be recalled with the express purpose that it sets about electing a First and Deputy First Minister on a cross-community basis and then forms an Executive, under the d’Hondt formula. As soon as this is done, power will automatically be devolved, as happened in December 1999, and all of the Assembly’s other functions will be resumed.

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.

This bill will have obvious implications for Orders in Council. Some of the forthcoming Northern Ireland legislation on transferred matters will obviously be appropriate for consideration by the restored Assembly. And Ministers will naturally be willing to take account of views on such matters, if they are provided on a cross-community basis.

It’s not clear from the statement, as far as I can tell, what exactly the arrangements for discussions during the summer are going to be.

Update The debate that followed the statement in the Commons is worth noting [permanent links added]

In particular what Peter Hain had to say in response to the Conservative Party NI spokesman, David Lidington

Mr. Hain: First, I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, and for putting it on the record that, in general terms, the Opposition will support the initiative. I agree that it is in no one’s interest to attempt to wish away what he described as the serious difficulties afflicting this process.

There is deep mistrust, and I agree that responsibility does indeed lie with republicans to ensure that everyone—not just their supporters, but their opponents—is persuaded that they are genuinely committed to peaceful and democratic means; that they have, as the Independent Monitoring Commission has reported, rejected their past commitment to terrorism; and that they are committed to rejecting criminality, about which I will say more in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions.

The hon. Gentleman asked for further information on the murder of Denis Donaldson and on the vodka heist. He asked for further information on whether they were carried out by the IRA. I accept that he himself made a distinction between those events and the Northern Bank robbery, which the Chief Constable was quick to say was the responsibility of the IRA. No firm conclusions have been yet drawn by the police on either matter, and there is certainly no evidence that I have seen, or that the police have provided to me, or any intelligence, that either very serious incident, not least the barbaric murder of Denis Donaldson, was sanctioned, approved or in any way organised with, as it were, prior thought by the leadership of the provisional IRA.

Let me quote for the House’s benefit a statement issued by the IRA on 13 April—[Interruption.] I think it important to put this on the record.

“The IRA has no responsibility for the tiny number of former republicans who have embraced criminal activity. They do so for self-gain. We repudiate this activity and denounce those involved. The IRA remains committed to the peace process… The leadership…believes that it is possible to achieve the republican goal of a united Ireland through the alternative route of purely peaceful and democratic means.”

I may add that the president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, has made clear his total condemnation of the murder and of criminality that may be carried out in the name of republicans.

On education reform, I am happy to provide assurances that I believe it would be a suitable matter for discussion in the Assembly if the Assembly chose to discuss it and if there were all-party agreement to do so. Undoubtedly, if all-party policy positions were agreed by the Assembly, the Education Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith)—and I would want to take careful note of them. We intend to bring forward an order next month to set the overall architecture, but there will be considerable scope once the Assembly has got going to determine the exact new admission arrangements, the nature of the pupil profile, curriculum detail and so forth. Those would be appropriate issues for the Assembly to discuss, but no one, I think, is in any doubt about—I have heard no one defend it to me—the continued existence of a method of deciding a child’s future on the basis of two one-hour tests, after which their future opportunities are either closed or opened up. There is agreement, however, that there is genuine debate on the issue and there will be an opportunity to influence the future over exactly how the new regime will operate.

On the supremacy, as it were, of the United Kingdom Government in the governance of Northern Ireland, I am happy to agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. There is absolutely no question of joint authority or joint governance. There is plenty of scope, however, and the hon. Gentleman implied that he agreed with this, for practical co-operation, as provided for through the architecture of the Good Friday agreement, which was endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland, for cross-border co-operation in a number of areas—for example, on energy, the economy, child offending, and getting rid of unfair mobile phone roaming charges so that there is a single, all-Ireland rate. On those sorts of issues, and on many more, there is tremendous scope for future co-operation, much of which, indeed, is already taking place. But there is no question of joint authority. There is no question of that at all.[emphasis added]

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s general support on the emergency legislation and will be happy to take him through the detail when we have an opportunity to do so. I am being very cautious about Orders in Council; I know there is sensitivity to them in Parliament, both in this place and the House of Lords. However, I want some flexibility to make progress. I had hoped to include in the Bill provision by Order in Council, should we be in a position to reach a final agreement, and also to amend the strands 1 to 3 arrangements, which everybody understands will be necessary in terms of the original architecture; for example, the Democratic Unionist party has made its position clear.

I had hoped to include an Order-in-Council provision in the Bill, but it seems that there is opposition to that, so we shall have to look at emergency legislation later in the year, should there be the conditions for the necessary all-party agreement and the restoration of the institutions that we desire. I shall obviously consult the hon. Gentleman on all the detail as we go through the process.

And in response to the DUP’s Peter Robinson

Mr. Hain: First, I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) a happy 80th birthday, which fell on the day of the joint statement by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister—I do not know whether that was pre-planned by divine intervention.

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there are absolutely no threats to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland in the statement by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister or in anything that I say at the Dispatch Box today? That constitutional status was decided by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum, and it can only be changed by them in a referendum. I reiterate that that is our policy, and the policy of every good democrat in the House and outside. Nothing in that statement, and nothing that I have said today about north-south co-operation and practical matters, alters that at all, nor could it do so.

I agree that the principle of the mandate must be respected. The hon. Gentleman’s party won a clear majority of the votes, and it is the largest party from Northern Ireland in this Parliament and, indeed, in the Assembly. It was elected on a platform that requires changes to the detail of the Good Friday agreement, and that is precisely what we will address when it comes to negotiating a final solution. There is no point other parties seeking to deny that, which is why I sought to address the matter in my early thoughts about the Bill. We will have to take it forward in another way if we reach the point where there is, as I hope that there will be, all-party agreement to restore the institutions, as I accept that that cannot be done without changes of the kind that we have discussed before, particularly in 2004, and that require further legislation.[emphasis added]

On the question of paramilitary and criminal activity, the hon. Gentleman has seen the last few IMC reports, particularly the last one, which made it clear, as I said, that the IRA no longer poses a terrorist threat. The report made it clear, too, that although there are instances of localised criminality, there is no evidence that that is organised from the top. Indeed, it made it clear that criminal operations have been closed down by the organisation, which puts us on the right road. I accept that the hon. Gentleman’s party is concerned about the matter. I am concerned about it too, which is why the police and the Assets Recovery Agency—this applies across the border—are pursuing those responsible for such criminality energetically. All the recent reports confirm that, whether the criminals are claimed to be republican or loyalist.

Later, in response to Conservative MP, Andrew MacKay, Peter Hain set out the balancing act that he envisages the British Government enaging in –

Mr. Hain: Clearly, those parties that have consorted with or organised criminality in the past must be treated in a different way. I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. However, the principle that I was trying to express was that Unionists need to be sure that republicans have put behind them all commitments to paramilitary activity and criminality, while republicans and nationalists—Sinn Fein and the Social and Democratic Labour party—have to be certain that Unionists will form a power-sharing Executive with them. There is trust to be built from both ends. That is what this initiative is designed to achieve, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for it in principle.